That Time I Spent the Weekend in NYC

It’s that time of the year again! Holiday time in NYC which means my friends from MD come up for a girls weekend (YIPPEE!!!)

We started this in 2012 because I missed my friends after I had moved back up to Long Island and my friends want to see NYC at Holiday Time when the windows are done up and the stores have some amazing sales!

So this year we started planning at the end of September, of course that was just to set the date everyone was available to play. The previous two trips have been the weekend just before Christmas. This year seems the best weekend was a week after Thanksgiving!

Once we had the date secured on our calendars, it was time to search for a hotel. You know how this goes, hope for the best, expect the worse. It’s holiday time in NYC, so of course hotel prices will be high (granted NYC most of the year hotels are pricy). We searched on all the hotel search sites because we weren’t sure what hotels were in the area we were looking.  We found that staying in the Herald Square area of the city works best.

Based on our parameters of Date and area we settled on the Radisson Martinque at 6th Avenue and 32nd Street.  It was easily accessible for me coming in on the LIRR to Penn Station. I just had to exit at the 7th Avenue exit, cross 7th then walk straight down 32nd Street and boom, there was the hotel waiting for me at the corner.

The lobby was nice and big. There was a couple of couches and chairs for sitting, with enough to stand milling around without really being the way of anyone else. Check in was fairly easy, though when I showed up at 2, they said they had no rooms available because check in was a four so I should leave my bags with the bell desk and come back in 2 hours. Now I travel a lot for a living, I often show up at the hotel prior to the official check in time where I am still able to get a room with little hassle. Sometimes they tell me the reason why one is not available: we were sold out last night so rooms are still being cleaned, check out time hasn’t occurred yet so we don’t have any clean available rooms at the moment. But if check out is at 12:00 noon and it’s now 2pm, either tell me you were sold out last night and don’t have any rooms cleaned yet, or say I am waiting for some clean rooms to show as available, don’t just dismiss a paying guest.

As I do travel so often, I rarely back down from a check in desk staffer who lacks customer service skills so of course I asked when would the earliest time a room be available? Finally she searched in her screen and come up with something available around 3pm.  I could handle that, it was closing in on 2:30 already. So I found a couch space and read another James Patterson book on my Kindle (FYI: I finished NYPD Red 2).

So I checked in and went on up to the room. For a NYC hotel room it was quite roomy.  It wasn’t big by normal hotel standards, but it was nice sized for four adults and one pack n play. The shower didn’t drain easily, but really that was the only major complaint I had about the hotel. They have two sets of elevator bays so depending if your room is towards to the front or the back you have options of which set of elevators you want.

Friday night has become our annual trip to a delicious Jewish Deli. This year we were up to Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We attempt to hire an Uber since it was 2.5 miles away, but the first few got cancelled, the one we got messed up and cancelled the car when we got in, then with the surge, tried charging us $48, so we hopped out at 3rd Avenue and 13th Street, gave him some $$ and walked the rest of the way down. We walked up to 2nd then down to Houston. The deli is at Houston and Ludlow right on the corner – you can’t miss it with signage like this:

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When you enter, you are handed a ticket – don’t lose this ticket, you need it to pay and leave the deli (and there is a hefty cost if you do lose it!). We opted for table service instead of counter and seat yourself service.  We had a bowl of pickles brought over and then we each ordered.  I ordered a hot dog and salad (as did my friend Meg) and my friends Lana and Jess ordered Matzoh Ball Soup with Half Reuben. Delish all around! Lana fed her 18 month old daughter some new food to try, most of it was a hit (though the pickle took two tries…)

We then hailed a cab back to our hotel. It was raining when we walked down there, so we opted for the cab ride home.  We made great time right until 30th street. The protesters were back in Herald Square Friday night, 2 blocks from our hotel.

Saturday was spent walking around the city, enjoying the holiday sites. Well, it was supposed to be. We didn’t make it any further then Herald Square because it was pouring all day long.  My friend did manage to get a Santaland picture of her daughter with Santa (well, sorta, the kid wasn’t having anything to do with Santa!).  We then did a bit of shopping at Macy’s.  The sales weren’t quite there were when we visited the weekend just before Christmas, but a sale was taking place.

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After a bit of shopping along 34th Street, it was time to start searching out a restaurant for dinner. However, the hotel concierge wasn’t on duty anymore at 5:30 on a Saturday evening just when we were looking for recommendations!  What hotel does that during one of the busy seasons?

So we just asked the front desk for some help, and found a lovely restaurant up on 3rd Avenue call La Giara in the Murray Hill area. It was still raining, but it was only a 7 block walk (5 cross down and 2 up town) so we hoofed it again.

I must thank whoever at the front desk recommended this place to us, it was great!  We called just before we left to check availability. They held their last table for us (4 adults and a high chair!). A few minutes after we sat down, my friend placed an order of Mac & Cheese for her daughter, they were quite accommodating. The decor was interesting – red brick walls (red was an overall color theme), a couple of booths, a number of regular tables. The space wasn’t very big, but it was big enough to fit about 15-18 tables of varying sizes. We were brought water relatively quickly, and we had just the right amount of time to review the menu when the waiter came back over to take our orders.

IMAG2362The menu wasn’t large, but had enough variety that we were all satisfied with options, and our actual orders. The food was delicious, everyone was thrilled.  My friends daughter gives it two hands up, as she tried a little of bit something from each of our plates and was happy with each!

How very Italian themed of them, they have a pasta press when you first walk in!
Again, we walked back to our hotel and just chilled in the room talking and catching up. Sunday morning, we checked out and I walked back down to Penn Station to catch a train while my friends made their annual stop at Ess A Bagel to bring some NY bagels back down to MD with them!

As always, it was amazing hanging out with some of my girls in my home town. I wish more of them would visit more often – but I am working on it!

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That Time I Saw More Than A Dallas Hotel

In April I was headed to Dallas for work.  I decided, since I’m freelancing, which gives me a bit more freedom with my scheduling, that I would take a few days.

After my work wrapped, my time in Dallas began.  I took a little walk down to see some infamous American history.  My hotel, Hyatt Regency Dallas, was only a quarter mile from Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll.  The concierge at the hotel was fabulous.  Provided me suggestions and tips walking around Dallas.  She also provided me with a coupon to the 6th Floor Museum.

Dealey Plaza is a cute little area just on the other side of the exact spot JFK was shot in his motorcade.  You can see the Xs in the street of where the car was when he was hit.  The Plaza itself is pretty, clean and very relaxing feeling.  The city has turned what was a dark day in our history in to an honored place of memory and awe.

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After walking through Dealey Plaza, I went on up to the 6th Floor Museum.  The museum is located on the 6th floor of the book depository where it is said that Lee Harvey Oswald was located when he shot JFK.

The museum gives a history of the time period of JFK’s presidency – the early 1960s.  You are able to read about the culture of the country at the time, the political climate during JFKs presidency, and the policies he did or attempted to implement.

The timeline then goes on to discuss the climate (culturally and politically) at the time of JFKs assassination.  You are provided with a timeline of the events leading up to the actual shooting – his arrival in Texas and then his arrival in Dallas.

The museum provides artifacts from that day from people who attended his arrivals, rallies and events in which he appeared.

The area in which Lee Harvey Oswald is to have hidden out is encased in protective glass.  They inform us that the items in that area are as they were on November 22, 1963.  The museum goes on to cover the actual shoot with the radio calls and TV announcement by Walter Cronkite of the shooting and his passing.

Even though I wasn’t born until 17 years after, I was emotionally moved and affected by this museum.  JFK was such a presence in our history.  Mention of him in most conversations is always tinged with the ‘what if’ attached.  He started a wave of change like our nation had not seen in many years.

Photography is prohibited in the museum.  If you ever get the opportunity to be in the Dallas, I highly recommend taking an hour or two out of your schedule to visit this museum (or schedule the visit in).

Afterwards I changed hotels and met up with my friend Meredith who was in town for work as well.  Because our schedules kindly overlapped, we both decided to continue our MLB stadium tour.  We went down to Global Life Park to take in a Texas Rangers baseball game!

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This is definitely a newer stadium.  It’s large.  We sat up in the top level, down the third base line.  The views were still pretty good even that high up, from the outfield.

I even took a little along the promenade to view AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys.  Quite a view! 2014-04-12 19.53.25

The one oddity I encounter in Dallas occurred at the ball park.  We were a small group.  One of our members was from Canada.   Upon arrival, we stopped at concessions to get some food and drink.  Our Canadian friend ordered a beer, showed her ID, paid and walked away with her.  Later in the game, she went out, stood in line, showed her ID and was denied.  When she questioned, she was told they do not serve alcohol to CANADIANS!  We then proceeded to question an usher about this who claimed it was a law that they cannot serve alcohol to foreigners.

As a traveler, and a New Yorker – I find this an odd ‘law’.  As a country, we are a popular travel destination.  As a country, we pride ourselves on our immigrant laws.  As a country, we are a melting pot in which people from all over the world come to travel and live.  How can you claim to have a law in which you do not serve alcohol to foreigners?  This act tainted my entire trip and screwed my view on Dallas as a whole.  Never once in my travels have I been denied alcohol because my ID was from the USA.

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South African Adventure – Site Seeing Fun

So after relaxing and seeing about Diamonds, we went downtown to be a tourist.  We spent that Thursday downtown viewing the Union Buildings and surrounding gardens.  The Union Buildings themselves are, of course, gated off with high security as the Presidential Offices are located in these buildings.  But, still, I personally was quite in awe just standing outside of the buildings.  Now, this comes from a person who lived less than 10  miles from the White House in Washington DC, which, still leaves me in awe when I walk by, or the capital building, or any historical governmental building I see.

We took a nice walk around the garden terrace just outside of the Union Buildings. The view of Pretoria was phenomenal.  The flora was gorgeous and colorful.  Let us not forget, this is where the statue of Nelson Mandela (Mandiba) is located.  The statue is a large as he was in person.  Right in the center of the terrace garden, centered among the Union Buildings is this stunning example of a true man of the people, a man who fought for equality and rights for all.

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That Friday, we ventured out to see more flora, the Pretoria Botanical Gardens.  We walked around for about 90 minutes in awe of the flowers and trees and bushes that were that, that we do not normally see in the North Eastern USA.  My friends little boy was running around enjoying the open spaces and it was adorable!  We located the waterfall, walked up to the top of it, then, of course, took tons of pictures (because that is what tourists do).

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The entire time, as I did for practically the entire 12 days in SA, I was fascinated and in awe of my surroundings, of where I was and what I was seeing.  This trip, for me, was just another example of why I love to travel.  To see things and experience things we don’t get to see and do normally.

Travel is my drug

South African Adventure – Animals Abound

So, we landed, we relaxed, we started to adjust, and then on Monday, our first full day, Sami (Jess’ sister) and the kids and Sami & Jess’ friend Joyce and I went off to see some local animals!  We went out to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve located to the Northwest of Pretoria.

As the boys go to a North American school, they had the day off for President’s Day so it was a family adventure.  The Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is an animal reserve where you drive the park in your own car or can hire a guide to join you.  We opted to follow the map they provided and drove ourselves around hoping to see any and all types of animals we could spy with our eye.

Although we did not see any Rhino’s on this drive, we did see plenty of other amazing animals.  The boys were thrilled when we saw a pack of wild dogs and I was amazed by how close we got to the Lions and Cheetah!

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We might have caught the Lion’s waking from a nap! Stay clear of their teeth

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Those eyes fascinate me

We also saw some Water Buffalo, Ostrich, Warthogs, Zebra, Klipspringer, Waterbucks,

Upon entering the reserve, we paid our entrance fee.  The free here is per person, not per car.  It was R140 for adults and R100 for children.  After we drove the length of the reserve, we pulled over for a stop at a playground for the kids.  The playground had a swing set, jungle gym, two in-ground trampolines and a few blow up bouncy houses for the boys to play on.  Ok, I’ll admit it, the adults got in to the action a bit as well!

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After the playground we ventured in to the children’s section.  Here, for an additional R30, we were able to pet some baby lions!

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A little bit nervous, but just dove in and pet!

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Just before Jess’ lion up and ran away from us!

And because no trip to pet some lion is complete without a bit of a scare – one of them got a little nibbly on Joyce’s foot!DSC_0307

 

If ever you are in South Africa, around Johannesburg or Pretoria, I recommend this little reserve for a one day adventure with the animals.  They also have wonder caves, but they were closed when we were there.