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Sunday, September 24, 2006

THE GUGGENHEIM: DAY FOUR, PART TWO

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum began in 1937 as the Museum for Non-Objective Art, but was renamed after its wealthy founder, a copper magnate, and was then refered to as a "Museum of Modern Art". In 1943 Guggenheim commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to erect a new museum, his first in NY. It took sixteen years to complete because of ongoing building restrictions, and by the time the museum was finally opened Wright was 88 years old! Unfortunately, the innovative concrete struction has been plagued by surface cracks almost since it's opening in 1959. Beginning in 2005 twelve layers of paint were removed and the building's concrete surface was revealed. The repair and repainting is expected to be completed by the end of 2007, in time for the building's 50th anniversary.

This is the only NY musuem as famous for its architecture as for its contents. Wright designed it as one single large room on one continuous floor that spirals, helix-like, on a ramp 432 M (473 yds) long. Visitors start at the top and wind their way down the whorl. The only natural light comes into the museum from the glass roof. There are no windows. It feels much like being inside a snail shell, certainly one of the most unique buildings I've visited.

The Museum puts on five or six special exhibits a year, many of which occupy the whole museum. There are a few permanent collections including those of Kadinsky, Jackson Polloak and paintings by Klee and Picasso and others shown in the extension rooms built in 1980.

The exhibit on show to Oct. 25 was titled "Thirty Years in Architecture" a most amazing display of work by the Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid who is known as one of today's most innovative architects. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Zaha Hadid studied in Switzerland, England and Lebanon. She pursued studies at London's Architectural Association and later joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She opened her independent practice in London in 1979 and got international recognition in 1982 for her submission The Peak which won a competition for a leisure club in Hong Kong. Although this project was never completed she has since then designed several other buildings and has been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This was truly one of the most remarkable exhibits I've ever seen. Zara Hadid says "My ambition is always to realize theoretical projects that seem difficult at the time." Her designs are exciting and impressive. My favorite was The Dancing Towers" a model of the three towers she has built in Dubai that, instead of standing erect, intertwine with each other. Her designs distort perspective creating an unorthodox viewpoint with fractured forms that give way to fluid and undulating shapes.

By the time we returned to our hotel later that afternoon, we were both exhausted, our minds crammed full of all the wonderful and unforgettable sights we'd seen that day. It was our last night in New York. We'd only had a few days but we had savoured a delicious slice of what the The Big Apple has to offer.

The next morning we set off to do some shopping but unfortunately didn't make it to Macy's or Bloomingdales we we'd planned. Instead went to some local shops, then, because the day was hot, humid and we were tired of ploughing through the crowds in Times Square, we hung out in the hotel lounge sipping lemonade until it was time to board the shuttle to the airport.

That morning Seventh Ave was blocked off with a street market and Fifth Ave was blocked off with a long never-ending Labour Day Parade (all the trade unions). The cross streets were open but the whole thing created a traffic gridlock the likes of which we'd never witnessed before. Luckily the conceirge had suggested we take the 2.20 pm shuttle to JFK, allowing us plenty of time to arrive at the check-in. The traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper all the way out across the Queensborough Bridge. Strangely, we didn't notice any road-rage or horn-honking which the New Yorkers have been famous for in the past. I've learned since that the City had passed a by-law against horn-honking! We weren't too worried by the delays but one woman in the shuttle anxiously asked the driver at ten minutes to four when we'd arrive at the airport. We were still quite a distance away and her plane was due to leave at 4.45!

We got to the checkin in good time and I was impressed to see how well things went at JFK compared to the nightmare that was LAX when I'd returned from Malaysia in the Spring. We went through the security quickly, and had lots of time to relax in the waiting area before boarding our Harmony flight home at 7 p.m. Unlike LAX it's a bright, airy building and didn't seem to exhude the paranoid and hustle-bustle of L.A.'s infamous airport.

Recapping our short, sweet adventure in Manhattan: We had agreat time, saw lots, walked our feet off and had nothing but excellent experiences which left us impressed and happy.
There was so much more to see, and it would have been nice to have had a bit more spending money, but I managed -- spent it all to my last penny -- and have gained a wealth of memories.

I have to say a big thanks here to the B.C. Travel Writer's Association who provided me with the winning door-prize, to Harmony for the airline tickets, N.Y. Tourism for the City Tours and to all my friends who contributed to help make this a wonderful holiday in the Big Apple!

CRUISING AROUND MANHATTAN ISLAND: DAY FOUR, PART ONE

SEPT. 8/06

We were on the go early today, headed for the Port Authority (Pier 83 at the foot of W. 43rd St) a good walk from our hotel. Along the way we noticed a group of police officers from Toronto who had arrived that morning to attend a ceremony at Ground Zero. The city was beginning to fill up with visitors that weekend, most of them there to attend the anniversaary of 9/11. We had considered going to Ground Zero but changed our minds, because of the crowds, and decided it would be best to leave this emotional time for those who had come to mourn or pay their respects.

We had tickets for the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island, a pleasant three-hour boat trip which I'd recommend to anyone who's never visited NY before. The view from the water gives you a magnificent perspective of the city skyline, offering views of many different points of interest. That morning, as we slowed down nearing the Statue of LIbery, the guide pointed out the exact location where the World Trade Centre towers had once loomed over the other skyscrapers. Now there is a wide void, a chilling reminder of the tragedy of 9/11.

The little tour boat chugs down the shore of the Upper Bay, past the tall, impressive Statue of Liberty, circling around so you can get a good close-up view of it. The statue was given to the U.S. by the people of France in 1886 to commemorate the alliance of the two countries during the american Revolution. It was the work of of French sculptor Auguste Barthode with the help of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who built the supporting framework. The statue's face is apparantly modeled after the scultpor's mother. She stands 152 feel high, the pedestal is another 150 ft., the uplifted arm holding the liberty torch is 42 ft. and the head is large enough for a couple of people to stand inside. I recall on my first trip to NYC in 1968 that I actually climb up inside the Statue to the observation deck which is the Lady's "crown".

Just a hundred yards north of the Statue is Ellis Island, the portal through which more than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. The buildings on the island have been restored in 1990 and now house a museum.

The boat tour, narrated by an amusing and very informative tour guide, cruises up along the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, by the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. The guide points of places of interest such as the wharves where "On the Waterfront" were film, and the berth where the Titanic was supposed to land. Along the East River we passed the splendid glass buildings of the United Nations, headquarters for almost 6,000 men and women from all over the world who carry on the work of the Secretariat of the General Assembly. You can actually get tickets to attend the General Assembly, free of charge.
Next to it is the home of Koffi Annan (one of my heroes) and just below, other notables such as the actress Signoury Weaver has a vine-covered house by the River. Farther along is Gracie Mansion, home of the NYC mayor. Apparantly this mayor who is a billionaire, does not reside there but has opened it for tours, and because of his wealth, has contributed his 'salary' to the City. Past here, the East River merges into the Harlem River, and the boat sails north through Hell Gate to the Hudson River, under the great lattice-work of the George Washington Bridge, by Riverside Park and all the docks of the big shipping companies where the great liners like QE II birth.

The cruise was certainly a highlight of our short stay in NYC and a refreshing way to spend a warm, sunny day away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and downtown Mahattan.

We bypassed a tour of The Intrepid sea-air museum, the aircraft carriet docked alongside Pier 86. This ship wis a veteran of air and sea battles of the South Pacific during World War II and later Vietnamn and is now converted into a fascinating floating museum of naval history and technology. Instead, we headed uptown for a visit to the famous Guggenheim Museum.

(**See Day Four, Part Two)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

MAMA MIA! WHAT A DAY! (Day Three, Part Two)

You see Pedi-cabs all over Manhattan and we'd been curious about them, so when the guy approached us in Central Park and offered his services for a pedi-cab tour to the Strawberry Fields, the Dakota Apartments, the Lincoln Centre and other sites along the way right to the discount ticket place in Times Square, for only $55 (plus tip) we agreed. And we certainly weren't sorry we did, nor did we begrudge the fare. After all, our City Pass tickets to all the other sites had been donated by New York Tourism as part of the prize I'd won, along with the airfare to NY. So we hopped in and off we went.

Straberry Fields is the living memorial to John Lennon set in the park opposite from the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West at 72ns Street where Lennon was slain on December 9, 1980.
Established in 1985, five years after the tragic event by his widow Yoko Ono who donated $1 million to the project, it grew into a peace memorial with contributions of plants and trees from countries all around the world. Known as the "International Garden of Peace" it is a round slab of black marble with the word "Imagine" set in a starburst of black and white mosaics, contributed by Italy. All around it are planted river birches from the Soviet Union, maples from Canada, cedars from Israel, daffodils from Holland, dogwood from the late Princess Grace of Monaco and other plants and trees forming a shaded bower around the memorial.

Across the street, the Dakota Apartments, built in the 1880's, designed by architect Henry Hardenberg for Singer Co. heir Edward Clark, was the first luxury apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and still probably the most famous apartment building in the city. Our pedi-cab driver, William, took us to the exact spot by the side entrance where John Lennon was shot down by a crazed assassin who had lurked by the building waiting for him to come out. That man is still in prison. Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and William pointed out the entire floor where she resides. Lauren Bacall also lives in the Dakota. Marily Monroe lived there for a time. Peter Tchaikowski did too. And Leonard Bernstein died there.
Boris Karloff's ghost is said to haunt the hallways.

We cycled down Central Park West toward the city centre, passing the Juilliard School, the most prestigious music institution in the country, which is located near the Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts, composed of many buildings that house permanent companies as well as venues for world class performances such as the Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre, NY City Opera, NY City Balley and NY Philharmonic. We were told by William that there are excellent jazz concerts at Lincoln Centre and we wished we'd had time to go back there one evening.

As it was, we were pretty thrilled to get a close-up look at the Met and while we were sitting there in the pedi-cab a man came along and asked if we'd like him to take our photo. It turned out he was one of the tenors from the opera company and he told us if we came there Saturdaywe could see a performance of Carmen for just $25. What a thrill that would have been! Unfortunately, so much to do, so little time!

Right across from the Lincoln Centre is the fabled Trump Tower, a black glass sky-scraper, and nearby is Columbus Circle with a tall statue of Christopher Columbus directing the traffic around it. It was thrilling to ride in the pedi-cab right in the middle of the New York traffic, weaving in and out. William dropped us off at TKTS (Times Square Theatre Centre) at Broadway and 47th St. so we could pick up our half-price tickets for a show. He recommended we see Mama Mia as he said he'd seen it three times and loved it. I'd always wanted to see this show too, as I enjoy ABBA's music and was curious to see how they would work it into a Broadway musical. So, without even having to wait long in the line we scored tickets for $76.
The tickets are generally sold for that night's performance and go from 25% to 50% discounts. Ours were 35% discount. We thanked William for his informative, interesting tour of Upper Manhattan, tipped him $10 and went back to our hotel to prepare for an evening at the theatre. We decided to dress for it, and treat ourselves to a lobster dinner at The Oyster Bar
then we headed off to the lovely old Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre for the evening's show.

NYC is the entertainment capital of the nation and here you can catch not only Broadway and off- Broadway theatre performances, but opera, musicals, dance, and shows from all over the world. (I was disappointed to find I'd be missing a performance of Aescylus' The Persians by the Greek National Theatre Company, peformed in Greek with sub-titles on Sept 15.) The city has hundreds of theatres, some of them dating back to the turn of the last century, and these include the many off-Broadway theatres such as those in Greenwich Village where the Pronvinceton Playhouse started up on MacDougal Street to show the works of a young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. These off-Broadway theatres became popular during the '50's and '60's, known as The Golden Years of Circle in the Square, the Theatre de Lys and the Cherry Lane Theatre. It was at these theatres that the late Geraldine Page rose to stardom, Edward Albee tried out his early work, and names like Ionesco, Beckett, Bertoll Brecht and Kurt Weill became household words. The longest running show on Broadway or off was The Fantastics that ran for over 30 years.

I had done some research on the current productions before going the NY, but we were happy we'd settled on Mama Mia! because, just as William had said, "You'll come out of there singing and dancing!" And we did! Mama Mia! What a day!

Next: A Circle Island Tour

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COSMIC COLLISIONS AND DINOSAURS: Day Three in NYC (part 1)

Thursday, Sept 8
During our short time in the Big Apple we managed to cover a lot of territory, and this was one of those days so I'll break it down into two parts for easier reading.

We made our way by subway to Upper Manhattan to visit the Guggenheim this morning, after sleeping in late, and arrived only to find it was closed on Thursdays. So we decided to walk through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History instead.

This has to be one of the most famous Parks in the world, located between Ffth Avenue and Central Park North. The Park was laid out between 1859-1870 and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Veax. It was referred to as "The Greensward Project". It's a magnificent garden park, 19 acres in total, 5% of the total area of Manhattan, extending 4 kms in length and 500 meters wide.

When I visited NYC in '68 and in the mid '70's the Park wasn't a safe place to wander about, though in '68 I definitely went there and enjoyed strolling by the lake and visiting the Zoo. Since Guilliani's reign as Mayor, the Park has been made safe and is the most pleasant respite, a cool, green patch among Manhattan's concrete canyons. We wandered the shaded paths, enjoyed a bit of time to relax, hear the birds sing, breathe the fresh air. The park is popular with joggers, strollers, cyclists. You can rent bikes or go rowing on Conservatory Lake or have a picnic under the trees. And a romantic way to see the Park is by horse drawn carriage or pedi-cab.

The Museum of Natural History is only a short walk through the Park from the Guggenheim. It happened that our ticket included a show at the Hayden Planetarium as well, making it a very interesting morning and quite unexpected.

The Museum is another one of those magnificent historical NY buildings, and happens to be one of the greatest scientific museums in the world. Besides the impressive natural history collections and dinosaur halls, it includes the Rose Centre of Earth and Space, the Hayden Planetarium show, and other space exhibits such as the Big Bang Theatre which recreates the birth of the Universe. The Museum was founded in 1869 and it would take hours to see it all, so we focused on only a few of the exhibits.

First stop was the Hayden Planetarium show "Cosmic Collisions" a virtual reality experience that takes your breath away! The show "launches visitors on an awe-inspiring trip through space and time exploring the hypersonic impacts that drive the dynamic and continuing evolution of the universe." You witness collisions past, present and future including the creation of our Moon, a re-creation of the meteorite impact that ended the Age of Dinosaurs and "a nail-biting future scenario where humanity desperately attempts to divert the path of an oncoming asteroid on a collison course with Earth." Whew! It missed by a heart-beat!

After that breath-taking show finished we walked along the spiral "Cosmic Pathway" down to the main level, chronicaling 15 billion years of evolution of the universe, to the Hall of the Universe were there's a 15 1/2 ton meteorite, to the Hall of Planet Earth which focuses on the geological process of our home planet.

By the time we'd finished viewing all this brain-numbing, awesome stuff, we were a bit too exhausted to tour too much more of the museum, but we wandered through the displays of the African mammals and the outstanding dinosaur halls were there were immense reconstructed skeletons of every type of prehistoric creature immaginable. Wow! When you see those creatures up close and personal, it's amazing. A tall man would only come up to the knee-bone of one of most of them. Pretty scary!

After we finished that tour, we decided to take another stroll through the Park to find the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon. And that's when another fine adventure began...

Part Two: Strawberry Fields by Pedi-Cab.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

GREENWICH VILLAGE: Day Two, Part Two

The first time I visited NYC, I went to stay in the West Village where my girlfriend lived. At that time I didn't know much of the history of Greenwich Village, only that this was where my litarary hero Jack Kerouac and the Beat Poets such as Allan Ginsberg had hung out during the '50's. I thought I'd died and gone to Beatnik Heaven. At that time the Village was at the height of Flower Power, and there was a lot of buzz about an event called Woodstock that was about to take place just outside of New York City. I had no idea what this was. I just knew I was there, walking around those tree-lined streets, sitting on the stoop in the evening, watching the crowds go by. My friend lived on MacDougal Street. I didn't know then that this was the street were Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) had also lived.

This time when I was preparing to return to NYC, I did some research, mainly about the literary history of the Village. I wanted to visit every home, pub and theatre where famous writers had lived and worked. Greenwich Village has always been a symbol of NYC's artistic and literary history. The Village was largely developed in the late 19th century so the streets aren't laid out on a grid system and have names rather than numbers. Washington Square was once one of Manhattan's first prestigious residential neighbourhoods. The Park was established 1828, surrounded by Greek Revival townhouses. Several of the oldest of these are still standing as is the Stanford White designed archway in the Park. Henry James lived here, also Edith Wharton. In the cluster of rooming houses on West 10th St. writers such as
ee cummings and Theodore Dreiser lived.

Eventually the Village attracted a more bohemian group of writers, among them Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and O Henry. And during the 50's and 60's it was popular with the existentialists and Beat generation writers as well as poets like Dylan Thomas.

The Village was also the centre for theatrical experimentation. Playwright Eugene O'Neill got his start at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal St. For over 40 years the Sullivan Street Playhouse was home to The Fantastics. And Edna St. Vincent Millay founded the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Nowadays the Village has become more upscale with trendy boutiques, antique shops, night spots and cinemas. We window-shopped as we walked through the shaded streets in search of
The White Horse Tavern which opened in 1880 and gained a name for itself in the late '50's as a haunt of Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and poet Dylan Thomas. Inside, the snug little booths and polished wooden bar are perfect for the literary crowd to gather for discussion along with their pints. On the walls are portraits of Thomas who collapsed and died on the sidewalk outside the pub after imbibing a vast quantity of whiskey (the accounts run from 7 to 19 shots! Apparantly he was diabetic.)

We sat at one of the little tables outside and ordered burgers. Of course I had a pint of Guiness in honour of Dylan.

A few blocks from here on Bedford St. is Chumleys. It was a little hard to find because it used to be a speak-easy and there is no sign outside, just a big old wooden door with the number 86. Here's where Kerouac hung out. It's long been known as a writer's hangout. John Steinbeck used to come here too. And F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of The Great Gatsby here. It was also a favorite haunt of actor Humphrey Bogart.

I stepped inside only long enough to take a photo or two of the interior. The walls were covered with photos of authors and book cover illustrations. It's a dining place so the tables were full. If we hadn't already chowed down on the burgers we might have stopped here for a bite to eat and another pint. But it was time to head for The Village Vanguard for an evening of cool jazz.

This is one of the oldest jazz clubs in NYC and known as "New York's most prestigious jazz club". It's located in the West Village on Seventh Ave S. down in a dim-lit basement.
There is limited seating and though we'd booked our tickets ahead, we were advised to get there early to find a good table. We were lucky to get seated near the front. The $35 admission includes $10 toward your drinks. We ordered and sat back to enjoy the evening.
This show featured Paul Motian (drums), Joe Lovana (sax) and Bill Frisell (guitar).
One thing I liked about it was nobody talks while the performance is on so you can really enjoy the quality of the music. When the first show over you can pay another $10 to stay for the second show and this would cover your drinks.

We opted to leave and take the subway back to Manhattan, just in time to browse through Times Square enjoying the excitement of the night-time crowds, and stop of Lindy's for some of their famous cheese cake. Yum!
I have never tasted cheese cake like it! A thick, rich slab that melts in your mouth.

We got back to our hotel at midnight, exhausted but happy with our day. Even our misguided little adventure on the subway when we were heading for the Village, had turned out to be fun. (We took the wrong train in the wrong direction. The folks on the train were helpful and polite, showing us the way to go -- back to Times Square and then down a different set of steps to get the Downtown train. ) Remeber this about Manhattan: Central Park and north are Uptown.
Times Square is Midtown. Greenwich Village and south is Downtown.

Next: Dinosaurs at Central Park and a Pedi-cab ride to Strawberry Fields!

Monday, September 11, 2006

THE BIG APPLE, Day Two: Art and Architecture

Wednesday, Sept. 6
The first thing this morning we went across the road to Benash's Deli/Restaurant and had a typical N.Y. nosh: bagels and cream cheese. (Absolutely the best!)
Manhattan alone has over 4,000 restaurants with a wide range fo food, flavours and prices from hot-dogs to haut-cuisine. If you're a foodie you'll find everything to suit your tastes and you could actually make your stay in NYC a culinary tour. No trip here is complete without sampling the quintessential NY fare such as bagels and cream cheese or the famous cheese cake (we'd visit Lindy's later that day but I never did get to sample a corned beef on rye sandwich or a hot-dog which was first introduced on Coney Island.)

The legendary Carnegie Hall was right across the street from our hotel so we spent some time browsing around reading the play-bills. There aren't any performances until next month and if we'd known we could have taken a tour of the Hall. The premier concert here was conducted by Tchaikovsky; the NY Philharmonic played here in the heyday of Mahler, Toscanini, Stokovwski and Bernstein. A concert date here is recognized as a mark of supreme artistry. Nowadays it also hosts pop concerts as well as classical.

A short walk away is MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Originally founded in 1929, it is devoted exclusively to modern art from the late 19th C. The new museum opened in 1984 and has been recently renovated. Famous paintings hang here from the Impressionists to those by Cubists and the Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol. Currently there is an exhibit of Dada artists.

We spent some time browsing in the Sculpture Garden before going inside to see the other exhibits. There are sculptures by Aristide Maillot, Gaston Lachaise, Henry Moore and my favorite, a little nanny goat cast in bronze by Pablo Picasso. As well there is a bronze wall by Henri Matisse.

As I'm most fond of the Impressionist painters I was especially thrilled to view Van Gogh's "Starry Night", Monet's "Water Lilies" as well as others. There were several of Picasso's works including "Demoiselles d'Avignon". I'm not much of a Jackson Pollock fan but it's interesting to view these famous artists' work.

We ate lunch at the MOMA and then walked over to look at Rockefeller Centre. This is one of Manhattan's landmarks, a masterpiece of Art Deco idealism, erected in 1930 and designated as as historic landmark in 1988. It's the world's largest privately owned buisness-entertainment centre composed of 18 buildings on 21 acres on Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. You enter via the slope of the Promenade to the Channel Gardens which leads to the Lower plaza where the famous ice skating rink is located in winter, and al fresco dining in summer. All around flutter the flags of U.N. member countries and in the centre is the imposing gilded bronze statue of Prometheus by sculputor Paul Manship. Just behind Prometheus is where the city's magestic Christmas tree towers over the ice rink during December and early January.

The architecture in New York is amazing and, like in London, you must walk around constantly looking up so as not to miss any of the abundance of architecutral treasures from the shiny glass and steel sky-scrapers to the Gothic revival spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Beaux Arts of Grand Central Terminal, the Art Deco of the Chrysler Building and many other historic buildings. There are a total of nineteen Art Deco buildings between Fifth and Seventh Avenues at 48th and 51 Sts alone, all clustered around the Radio City Music Hall with its ornate facades
that are a virtual musuem of sculpture, bas-relief, gilding, mosaics, carvings and moldings.
I had made a list of historic houses and apartments I wanted to see, most notably those that had once been the homes of famous writers, musicians or actors, but unfortunately time did not permit me to see many of them. On another trip to NYC I'd definitely plan to take a historic buildings tour because there's just so much to see in this city that is so rich with history.

Later that afternoon we would venture forth on our first subway ride which would take us to Greenwich Village. I'll write a seperate blog about the Village because that's where I stayed when I first visited NYC in 1968 so for me it would be a nostalgic visit.

THE BIG APPLE, Day Two: Art and Architecture

Wednesday, Sept. 6
The first thing this morning we went across the road to Benash's Deli/Restaurant and had a typical N.Y. nosh: bagels and cream cheese. (Absolutely the best!)
Manhattan alone has over 4,000 restaurants with a wide range fo food, flavours and prices from hot-dogs to haut-cuisine. If you're a foodie you'll find everything to suit your tastes and you could actually make your stay in NYC a culinary tour. No trip here is complete without sampling the quintessential NY fare such as bagels and cream cheese or the famous cheese cake (we'd visit Lindy's later that day but I never did get to sample a corned beef on rye sandwich or a hot-dog which was first introduced on Coney Island.)

The legendary Carnegie Hall was right across the street from our hotel so we spent some time browsing around reading the play-bills. There aren't any performances until next month and if we'd known we could have taken a tour of the Hall. The premier concert here was conducted by Tchaikovsky; the NY Philharmonic played here in the heyday of Mahler, Toscanini, Stokovwski and Bernstein. A concert date here is recognized as a mark of supreme artistry. Nowadays it also hosts pop concerts as well as classical.

A short walk away is MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Originally founded in 1929, it is devoted exclusively to modern art from the late 19th C. The new museum opened in 1984 and has been recently renovated. Famous paintings hang here from the Impressionists to those by Cubists and the Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol. Currently there is an exhibit of Dada artists.

We spent some time browsing in the Sculpture Garden before going inside to see the other exhibits. There are sculptures by Aristide Maillot, Gaston Lachaise, Henry Moore and my favorite, a little nanny goat cast in bronze by Pablo Picasso. As well there is a bronze wall by Henri Matisse.

As I'm most fond of the Impressionist painters I was especially thrilled to view Van Gogh's "Starry Night", Monet's "Water Lilies" as well as others. There were several of Picasso's works including "Demoiselles d'Avignon". I'm not much of a Jackson Pollock fan but it's interesting to view these famous artists' work.

We ate lunch at the MOMA and then walked over to look at Rockefeller Centre. This is one of Manhattan's landmarks, a masterpiece of Art Deco idealism, erected in 1930 and designated as as historic landmark in 1988. It's the world's largest privately owned buisness-entertainment centre composed of 18 buildings on 21 acres on Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. You enter via the slope of the Promenade to the Channel Gardens which leads to the Lower plaza where the famous ice skating rink is located in winter, and al fresco dining in summer. All around flutter the flags of U.N. member countries and in the centre is the imposing gilded bronze statue of Prometheus by sculputor Paul Manship. Just behind Prometheus is where the city's magestic Christmas tree towers over the ice rink during December and early January.

The architecture in New York is amazing and, like in London, you must walk around constantly looking up so as not to miss any of the abundance of architecutral treasures from the shiny glass and steel sky-scrapers to the Gothic revival spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Beaux Arts of Grand Central Terminal, the Art Deco of the Chrysler Building and many other historic buildings. There are a total of nineteen Art Deco buildings between Fifth and Seventh Avenues at 48th and 51 Sts alone, all clustered around the Radio City Music Hall with its ornate facades
that are a virtual musuem of sculpture, bas-relief, gilding, mosaics, carvings and moldings.
I had made a list of historic houses and apartments I wanted to see, most notably those that had once been the homes of famous writers, musicians or actors, but unfortunately time did not permit me to see many of them. On another trip to NYC I'd definitely plan to take a historic buildings tour because there's just so much to see in this city that is so rich with history.

Later that afternoon we would venture forth on our first subway ride which would take us to Greenwich Village. I'll write a seperate blog about the Village because that's where I stayed when I first visited NYC in 1968 so for me it would be a nostalgic visit.

A SMALL SLICE OF THE BIG APPLE: A Short Trip to NYC

It seems appropriate that I should be writing this blog about my visit to NYC on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11. The first time I visited New York, in 1968, was a life-changing experience for me. The second time, in the mid '70's, my life was also at a cross-roads. And this time, once again I am on the threshold of a new beginning.

I won this trip from the Travel Writer's Association and was thrilled about it. But a number of things happened that had made me a bit reluctant to go. First, I had a hard time putting together the money I needed and then I was given an eviction notice which meant I had to move. Fortunately, everything turned out just right. I've found a beautiful new apartment which I'll officially move into next weekend, thanks to good fortune and friends, enough money came together for me to enjoy my holiday, and from the moment I arrived back in NYC I knew it was 'right' for me to be there. The City has gone through some changes too, emerging after that terrible disaster, with a new sparkle and warmth. People there were friendly, kind and helpful, and most of all...patient. Even though by the weekend the place was filling up with visitors, including police and fire department contingents from all over coming there especially for the solemn occasion that will mark the commemoration of 9/11, there was still a beautiful spirit. New York is amazing, and our stay there, though brief, was filled with adventure and wonderful experiences.

I'll begin with our arrival, Tuesday night Sept 5, on a pleasant flight with Harmony Airlines from Vancouver to J.F.K. We came in through cloud cover and a misty rain. After my last experience in an U.S. airport (the nightmare that is LAX) I didn't know what we'd find at this world famous terminal, but we were relieved to discover what an impressive airport it is. Everything was controlled, well-run, non of the chaos and paranoia I experienced at LAX on my arrival from Malaysia. We cleared through customs with absolutely no hassles. The airport is modern and clean (L.A. take note!) and after realizing we'd be waiting in the taxi lineup for hours we found a shuttle bus that would take us into the City. Here we experienced some fo the NY frenzy that I seem to remember from the past. The guy who was herding us into the shuttle wasn't too helpful about indicating the best of the two stops we should be aiming for. We chose the Bus Terminal/Port Authority, but once on the bus it was announced that anyone going to a hotel should get off at Grand Central. We did so along with the other folks, but when the driver was taking luggage out, because ours was in a compartment for the Bus Terminal he refused to get it out. A few other people were in the same situation and the driver then threw a hissy fit, refused to get the luggage off and said "Get it yourself!". One of the passangers did so, had to climb right into the luggage compartment because the driver wouldn't offer him his pole to pull stuff out. In all that commotion we were then herded over to another small shuttle that would take us to our hotel. The African American guy who operated this vehicle was speaking in such a jargon that it was impossible to understand him. We wondered if we'd actually get to our hotel. In the end he turned out to be quite amusing and good natured after all the hustle, bustle and drama, and dropped us off right in front of the Park Central Hotel, located at 7th and Broadway.

Our hotel, one of the grand old established hotels dating back to the '20's, was elegant and beautifully restored. Our room was spacious, overlooking 7th avenue on the 8th floor but it was surprisingly quiet. We decided to have dinner in the hotel's New York Cafe, and afterwards went out to explore.

A RAINY NIGHT IN TIMES SQUARE
A misty rain was falling as we set off from the hotel after dinner. Our hotel was conveniently situation, right across from Carnegie Hall, and just minutes away from the hub of activity in Manhattan that is Times Square and the Theatre District. What a trhill it was to see all the neon lights advertising shows, the theatre marquees and famous restaurants like Ruby Foos and Lindy's Cheese Cake. We even saw the marquee for the David Letterman Show.

Broadway, the Theatre District and Times Square are New York! Times Square was once the New York Times newspaper's headquarters, from 1905 and it's the place where the famous ball drops every Newy Years as it has since that time. The area was once noted to be seedy but it has since seen sweeping changes and renovations. During Mayor Rudy Gulliani's term of office the City has been cleaned up and made safe. We didn't see any pan-handlers, street people, shady characters or trouble makers the whole time we were in mid-Manhatten. Times Square hosts about 20 million visitors a year and is a major tourist attraction. There's almost a carnival atmosphere with all the flashing lights and music and dozens of souvenier shops along with the famous NY delis where you can buy cheap snacks, featuring bagels and cream cheese, sandwiches and fruit of every description. Times Square is sometimes called "The Crossroads of the World" and is one of the major transportation crossroads in Manhattan. (We'd see a sample of a massive traffic grid-lock on our last day there!)

If you haven't been here for awhile, like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the "New Times Square" although perhaps it has become a bit over-done, a bit tacky. Besides the neon there's now the flashing high-tech screens and far too many billboards advertising everything under the sun including movies and shows.

New theatres have opened, old ones renovated. The oldest still remaining is the Lyceum, built in 1903. There's always been fashionable restaurants in this area, many of which still remain along with lots of trendy new ones. There are also numerous jazz, comedy and music clubs, clothing shops and megastores. Everything sparkles with neon and strobe lights and there's the famous Times running-lights headlines, a big feature in the Square though the N.Y. Times has moved to larger and more modern quarters along with other famous publishing houses including Random House, Conde Naste Magazine Group and MTV, Warner Bros, Virgin and Disney mega stores to name a few.

We had a long walk down and back (one of several we'd make during the week). By that time we felt damp and foot-sore so it was time to retire to our comfortable hotel room.
We thought we'd have a night-cap at the hotel bar before turning in, but even in NY some things close early so we went to our room, unpacked, relaxed and planned for the next day which would be New York Art and Architecture.