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Sights and the City

    On our first day in New York City, we took a walking tour of the financial district.  The tour was hosted by the Downtown Alliance. It was led by a guide from Big Onion Tours and was free (except for tipping the guide).  We assumed that the tour would be about how the stock market and banking system works.  I would be completely bored, while Jason, who likes trading, would be pumped up.  Instead we were told about the early history of New York, and the significance of the architecture and statues.  It was awesome, and revealed a rich history of the city that we wouldn’t have know otherwise.  The tour took us down Wall Street, past Trinity Church, through the landmarked buildings, and past the iconic “charging bull”.

    On day two we found ourselves in a line to board a boat bound for The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I would suggest purchasing your tickets in advance at Statue Cruises.  You save a lot of time, and you know that your tour time won’t be sold out before you get your tickets.  All of the lines for the boat and the statue have airport style security, so having some coffee in hand won’t hurt.  The ferry takes you to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island before dropping you back off.  Make sure to sit on the starboard side (the right side for you non boaters) of the boat.  You will have a great view of the harbor and the statue as you approach it.  There are audio and self guided tours available for the statue.  Expect a 30 minute wait to get your chance to enter the pedestal and statue.  It is worth it though, as the view is amazing.  Whenever you are ready hop back onto the boat to check out Ellis Island to see the path many immigrants took into the country.

    Later we checked out The Empire State Building.  Expect airport style security here also, but the wait isn’t nearly as long. The elevator to the top is very fast, and has you up to the observation deck in no time.  It is very cold and windy up there, but beautiful.  You can see the entire city! 

    Ground Zero was a very sobering stop on our trip.  There is an unsettling void that is felt around where the towers once stood.  A beautiful memorial is currently being built to forever be a reminder of the loss suffered on September the 11th.  Across the street St.Paul’s church still acts as a shrine to those who were lost that day.  It brought tears to our eyes to read and see all of the letters to loved ones and children’s pictures that were displayed.  Standing there in the midst of where this tragedy occurred is overwhelming.  There is a also preview center there that gives a glimpse of what the memorial will be like when it is complete.



    Later in the trip the boys took in a Knicks game at historic Madison Square Garden.  While the boys were watching their sports, the girls saw “Chicago” starring Ashlee Simpson-Wentzel on Broadway.  The boys thought that the basketball was awesome, and “Chicago” was great. 

    The last notable was the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes!  I know that it’s past Christmas, but this is worth mentioning.  The show is amazing!  There are amazing props and costumes.  Also, there are several different acts to keep you entertained including 3-D.  They also had a portion dedicated to portraying the biblical Christmas story complete with a live nativity scene.  I thought this was awesome especially in a world that constantly tries to take Christ out of Christmas.

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NYC Shopping, One Gal’s Experience

    I have done some shopping, but I have never come close to dropping.  However, I am pretty sure that your chances increase significantly in New York City.  There is an endless number of stores, and a little something for everyone.  When I travel I have a rule to never shop anywhere that I could visit in Charleston, which helped to cut out a lot of the larger retailers.  I’d like to share a couple of experiences and tips from the trip, so here goes.

    It’s a little cheesy, but you have to get an “I Love NY” t-shirt!  Sometimes cheesy is a good thing, especially when it only costs you $2.99…that’s right, for less than three American dollars you too can be the proud owner of an “I love NY” shirt.  There’s really nothing more that I can say here, just get one.

    Now that you have your obligatory t-shirt, we can move forward.  Our first stop was Century 21, not to be confused with the real estate company. Supposedly, this is one of the best shopping stops in NYC.  To me, it sounded like a huge TJ Maxx or Marshalls but with more designer clothing.  My expectations were very high as I held my clutch and ordered Jason to “stretch it out, these bags may get heavy.”  Instead, I only found disappointment inside of the doors.  The store does have a little of everything, but it is so crowded and cluttered that I found it difficult to navigate.  Hordes of shoppers randomly grabbing and invading my “personal shopping bubble” kept me from finding any treasure.  After finally losing hope, I retreated to the center aisle and made my way out.


    Our next stop was Tiffany & Co, it was my first time being inside one of their retail stores, but I have a history with them none the less.  You see over the Summer Jason took a trip to Las Vegas with his buddy Joe.  Joe’s fiancé’s parents lived there, and he was asking for her hand in marriage.  Innocent enough right?  That may be, but every gal out there knows that for her man to be turned loose in Sin City for a weekend there must be gifts given.  Jason was specifically told to “bring me back something pretty and platinum”.  Seemed like a fair trade to me.  Instead, I received an In-N-Out Burger t-shirt…colossal failure in the husbandly duties.  Soooo, knowing that you can imagine how excited I was to see Tiffany and Co.!  Finally, Jason could redeem himself in my graces…just how to convince him.  Inside I found something I loved in every case, but I have to hand it to him, he stood his ground.  No little box for me this go round, but there will be others.  A girls got to try right?  


    I grew up being a fan of the movie “Big”.  The FAO Schwartz scene in the movie is famous because of the large floor piano inside the store.  When we walked inside we made our way through the thousands of toys and candies to the piano.  A couple of employees have mastered the instrument and routinely play songs.  We stayed for the recurring concert and saw them play chopsticks and even some difficult classical pieces!  Afterward, the children in the crowd  were allowed to play a few notes themselves.  We all felt like kids again as we walked around this enchanting store looking at toys new and old.

FAO Schwartz Piano from The Shady Umbrella on Vimeo.



    Do you remember having a pair of KangaRoos brand shoes as a child?  I never had a pair, but Jason happened upon some that were in adult sizes.  I have never seen him so excited!  Roos have a pouch made into the shoes that you can keep things in.  As a child, Jason would haul around his lunch money in the pouch.  Apparently they are still a fairly popular brand, even though they are new to me.  We found them while trying to find me a pair of rain boots on a very nasty morning.  They were having a huge sale on them, so we each grabbed a pair. I initially bought them to have something to wear in the rain so I wouldn’t ruin my boots, but I have come to really like my lime green Roos.  These are Jason’s. 

    Before going to New York we heard stories about going over to Canal Street to get unbelievable deals on purses.  I don’t know whether they’re real or just good knock offs…Who knows?  We knew that we wanted to check it out, but didn’t really know what to expect.  Should you ever end up there, here’s the low down.  We had no sooner stepped out of the cab than to have a woman on the corner start questioningly whisper names of high end designers to us.  A little caught off guard we retreated to collect ourselves and have dinner.  There was a lot of suspect behavior happening all around.  Groups of women disappearing behind false doors in the backs of junk stores, whole families hopping into parked cargo vans with perfect strangers, shoppers hurriedly following scouts back to the goods…you get the idea.  Oh, also everyone, and I mean everyone, was toting big black trash bags filled with stuff.  I spoke with a woman with a bag at dinner that was kind enough to explain what to expect.  While we were all a little nervous, this is what we had come for.  Don’t misunderstand, we didn’t feel threatened at all, we just usually don’t spend our weekends ducking in and out of concealed rooms.  The scouts that are stationed on and around the street corners have inventory cards with pictures of what they offer.  They show you what they have, and if you want to see some items then you are escorted to them.  We had one woman actually go and retrieve the items for us on the street, but this was the only one.  She must just be getting her feet wet in the biz, as her competition all had very James Bondesque hidden doors and passages that are hidden behind the facade of  trinket shops.  

    While waiting for some bags to arrive we ran into a cute couple from Savannah, GA who was also waiting.   This helped put my mind at ease, especially when one of the guys asked where Jason was from because he was the only person wearing boat shoes in NYC.  When the goods came back, I checked them out and decided what I wanted.  I would estimate that $35-$45 a bag is about the norm, but deals can be struck on multi item purchases.  Pay in cash, and never take their first offer.  Don’t be afraid to low ball them.  They will only say “no”, then you continue negotiating from there.  We definitely got taken on the first deal by about $35, adrenaline got the best of us on that one.  Live and Learn.  After the first few deals we were becoming more comfortable, and it was even turning into a funny game.   When we went into a dark basement only to find a dad laughing while his wife and daughter picked out their goodies it was hard not to shake our heads in disbelief of what had become normal for the day.  This was by far my favorite experience in NYC.


    We also checked out the designers on 5th Avenue.  I think most people have an idea of which retailers line the street, so I will spare you those details.  I will leave you with some pictures of the very elaborate and beautiful window displays along 5th instead. 

Happy New Year!

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Tasty Bites in NYC

    I hope everyone had a great and blessed Christmas and holiday season!  We caught the Christmas fever in our house, literally.  Kristin and I have both been a little under the weather, but are happy to be back with more details on our trip to NYC!

    So…where should I begin talking about New York City?  Let’s start with something everyone likes to do…eat!  NYC has more varieties and variations of food than anywhere I have ever been.  It’s hard to know where to start because of the sheer volume of restaurants.  I can honestly say that we would have likely not found the number of awesome restaurants had it not been for modern forms of communication that utilize “word of mouth”.  My friend and fellow NYC traveler, Wesley, is a huge fan and user of new media.  He has been telling me for a few years now how useful new media can be in professional and social applications.  Well, if there were ever an example, navigating NYC is it.  Within minutes of asking friends on facebook, twitter, and simple texting we were swamped with suggestions of “must go” restaurants.  It made sifting through the sand and grit to find the gold pretty easy. 

Pop Burger was the first place that we tried in NYC.  We were out getting our bearings in the city and wanted a quick bite to eat. They offer tasty small burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and the usual gang that you would expect as sides at the first floor counter.  The lounge on the second floor offers the same as the first as well as some more options for dinner. The décor in the restaurant is a retro tribute to pop art.   On the first floor there is a simple eating area, but upstairs there is a lounge, pool table, and full bar.  It’s the best of both worlds, somewhere quick to eat or somewhere to chill out at night and grab a snack. 

    Our first night in the city we ended up at Pastis, a French Bistro in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, through a recommendation by a neighbor.  They offer some traditional French dishes along with a few twists on bistro fare.  It is a very open, tightly knit restaurant that gives a true sense of community.  You can make reservations, or take your chances on finding a seat at the community table.  We were lucky enough to be able to walk in and grab seats at the community table.   I would actually recommend this option because of the forced interaction with other people.  You may just end up next to someone that provides you entertainment with your meal.  The food was outstanding. 

    Admittedly, I watch a lot if Travel Channel TV…I love Man v. Food.  Watching Adam do some of the spicy food challenges has inspired me to attempt a few of them myself.   I was interested in checking out Brick Lane Curry House whenever the show visited it to do its Phaal Curry Challenge.  Phaal is a super hot curry that uses the ghost pepper, which is the hottest pepper on the planet.  If you finish the phaal you’ll get a free beer and your picture on the wall.  Not exactly like winning the Superbowl, but a small victory none the less. We hoofed it over there for an early lunch on day two.  I had never been to an Indian restaurant, so I didn’t know what to expect.  The staff was very friendly, and explained what everything was to us. I considered doing the challenge, even went as far as to try the sauce on its own (incendiary), but decided being on foot in NYC after braving that was not gonna be very well thought out.  Kristin spent the rest of lunch telling me I was scared, but I didn’t see her attempting it either.  All of the food was very flavorful and well prepared.  It is worth a go if you want to try something different and spicy. 



    That night after some suspect Chinatown shopping we decided to head into Little Italy and try Angelo’s.  To me this was exactly what I was expecting in a NYC Italian eatery.  The food was rich and flavorful.  The quarters were intimate and dimly lit.  The majority of the staff and patrons all seemed to have been cast by Francis Coppola himself.  It all just felt right…not to mention that they have, without a doubt, the best veal marsala that I have ever eaten. 


We took a subway ride down to the Lower East Side to try Katz’s Deli.  It is a Jewish kosher style delicatessen.  The restaurant has been around since 1888, and was the site of Meg Ryan’s climactic scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.  The restaurant has some of the best pastrami and corned beef that I have had.  The meat punches you square in the mouth with flavor!  House made pickles and fresh cut fries made it outstanding.


We tried out Sushi Samba for dinner on our third night in NYC.  It is a unique restaurant that offers a blend of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian food and music.  While the food was very good, the volume inside of the restaurant was deafening.  It seemed like the “seen and be seen” crowd was out in full force fronting for the world to see.  Finding humor in this sort of situation though, I enjoyed the dinner and the façade that the tables around us tried to project…good times.

    Throughout the trip there only remained one constant…Coffee.  I don’t want to speak for the entire group, but I know that I have a healthy addiction to caffeine.  I am not sure how many Starbucks there are in NYC, but we visited a good many.  Sometimes you need something to level you out, keep you going, or to get your fix.  Why not make it a legal addictive substance?  We take our coffee pretty seriously around here…

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I took a bite of The Big Apple, and it was surprisingly sweet…

    Everybody’s got their place…the place that you’ve always wanted to go, and the place that despite people’s praises you’ve never cared about seeing. I am from the south. I love the pace of life here, and the simple courtesies associated. I love the outdoors, and getting back to the simpler things. For me vacation means white sand, blue water, and a few cold beers. You can imagine my dismay when I first heard that were we spending our Christmas vacation in New York City. 

    Everybody has heard that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”…blah, blah.  Maybe you can’t, but I can and did for many years.  My work has taken me around New York a few times, but I have never cared to go into the city.  Now I know where your mind is wandering, “this fella here is just some bumpkin, ain’t never seen nothin'”…Let me assure you, I have been around and have seen plenty.   Like I said, I enjoy keeping my life simple.  I have a beautiful wife, a lazy dog, and a little boat to sneak off on now and again.  Give me a pair of jeans and some broken in boat shoes and I will change my shirt based on the occasion.  You can have the hustle and bustle, bright lights, over population, and pop culture.  I am fully aware of the significance that New York City has in society and commerce. I get the jist of it, which had always seemed like enough for me.

    Having said all that, I was completely wrong about New York City in every sense.  Sure, all of the things that I mentioned that kept me away were there, but they just bring balance to a city that is rich with history and culture.  So…I have to join the masses and say that if you haven’t been to New York City, you should go.  Over the next few blog entries we’re going to hit the high points of the trip.  What we did, where we ate, things worth doing, and things to avoid.  So, hang tight…

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