Wednesday, 26 June 2013

New York, The Met, The Blue Man and 10,000 Ibs of Pastrami

22/06/13 We finally arrived in New York after a five hour drive from New England. Longer than we expected but we did spend an hour or so in New Haven, the home of Yale University. Established in 1701, it is one off the eight famous Ivy League schools in America and the second oldest behind Harvard, est 1638. The town centre where we stopped for lunch had a movie set feel to it. Very tidy and neat with lots of very clean cut Yale types wandering around. Magnificent buildings, centuries old, standing regal and with a reverence that comes with being one of the older bastions of learning.  There are shops here that sell nothing that doesn't have the Yale Blue Bulldog mascot or the word, Yale, emblazoned on it.
We dropped the car back, complete with drivers wing mirror taped back in position courtesy of a run in with a tree in our drive way back at Dartmouth, and caught a taxi to our apartment in the lower east side of Manhattan. We were advised to get a fixed price on the trip and I nearly choked at the $65. But, our options were limited so we went with it. It turns out it probably was a fair deal.  The traffic from the car rental place out near La Guardia into our apartment was chaotic. We we're in the cab for nearly an hour. 
No doubt we were spoilt for space in Dartmouth with our three storey home complete with pool room and basement with big screen tv, built in bar and massage chair. Our tiny two bedroom apartment in New York would literally have fitted into the double garage.  
The only thing more expensive in New York than R/E is more R/E
But, location wise it's not too bad. While not in the part of town where you step out and fear for your personal safety, it's also not in the part of town where your doorman will make sure you don't chip a nail opening your front door. It had a little grunge about it which I think added some character.  We were warned that the Sapphire Club downstairs could pump out tunes till late so we came prepared with the latests in wax ear plugs.  Turns out the rowdiest night was when a few "girls of the night" had a party in the street under our window.

23/0613. Big day today.  We caught the subway to midtown Manhattan for a trip up to, "The Top of the Rock". Thats 30 Rockefeller Plaza. 
This guy look like he's sliding into home base.
From all the way up there we got to see this....
Looking North all the way up Central park to Yankee Stadium 
Looking South past the Empire State Building to Statue of Liberty and Statten Island
The Rockefeller Centre is a complex maze of 19 buildings spread over 22 acres We were headed to the building with the famous flags out front, the skating rink and the big golden fella that looks like he's just slipped on the ice .  The ice skating rink today is full of tables and chairs. When the ice retreats it becomes the Alfresco dining area of a restaurant on the bottom floor. 
We bought our tickets and joined the line. Before you get to take the express lift with the glass ceiling that propels you the 67 floors to the top, there is a short movie on the building of this amazing complex. The views form the top are simply iconic. Every direction you look you see something amazing. Down the lower side you look out passed the Empire State building over the Hudson River and out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. To the left of the Empire State is the famous art deco designed Chrysler building with it's unique crown of seven radiating terraced arches.
The Chrysler Building                        
Looking towards upper Manhattan is 840 acres of the most expensive grass in the world, Central Park. It was a brilliant way to get a little familiar with this amazing city.  After we had our fill of looking it was time to get down to the streets and get amongst it. We walked Times Square and took in the theatre district of 42nd street.
Spot the aussie in Times Square
Spider Man with a bum bag and an Asian accent
Tom Hanks is there at the moment in a Nora Ephron production called Lucky Guy with an ensemble cast of a dozen familiar tv faces. Oh yeh, it's the girl from ER and there's the guy from that CSI show, you get the picture.  
It had been a big day of walking for everyone and the boys were starting to feel it but we had a little further to go. We kept walking and ended up at Grand Central Train Station. 
Trying to talk a tired Charlie down from the ledge
Success, the CVW caravan continues, for now.
What a stunning building, and considering the traffic that goes through the place, so beautifully maintained.  From here we caught a train down to Whitehall Terminal then hopped on a Staten Island Ferry. Unfortunately Lady Liberty and Ellis Island were both closed for repairs courtesy of Hurricane Sandy's destructive visit in October 2012. The next best thing to landing on the island was a two way cruise on the John F Kennedy Ferry. We got within about 500 metres which is close enough to get a good look. 
Incredible Lady Liberty, standing tall and proud..and green
Looking back to Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, the tall building is The Freedom Tower
Now you cant go to the lower east side and not go to Katz's Deli. Anyone who has seen When Harry Met Sally and remembers Sally's fake orgasm scene will know this place. Famous for more than being a movie set, Katz's is renowned for its sandwiches. So much so that in one given week Katz's customers will consume 10,000 Ibs of pastrami, 5,000 Ibs of corned beef and 12,000 hot dogs. Having now been and seen for myself the masses that stand at the takeaway counters and swamp the tables, and, having seen for myself the sheer mass of meat that is sandwiched between two skinny pieces of rye bread, I don't doubt those figures for a moment. It was a big sandwich to finish off what was a very big day.
Where Harry met Sally, see the sign hanging from the roof.
Doing my part towards that 10,000 pounds of pastrami
24/06/13. Today we decided to give the trains away and catch cabs. It meant our travel budget went from $10 to $20 but it was door to door, guaranteed seating and meant we could all keep our walking energy for the museums.  Our first stop was The Met. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. What an amazing place. We did the Impressionist's first. Monet, Pissarro, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas sculptures and paintings, Lautrec, Rodin's and more, more, and more. 
Cat lover Claude Balles on the left , Painting by Claude Monet on the right
Nice hat Vincent
A stunning bronze Degas
Anyone stood on this bridge?
Arms and Armour was a collection of armour, swords, massive shields and guns including armour belonging to Henry the XIII and jewel encrusted and ivory inlaid flint lock pistols and rifles made for Emperors and Empresses. 
Tally Ho
I like to lend a helping hand wherever I can
Stunning, stunning, stunning Faberge Eggs
You cannot take a turn in this building without running into something astonishing. We saw a lot in the few hours we were there but by no means did we do it justice. You really need to spread your visit over a couple of days to get the full measure of the place.

Time for a walk in Central Park and a grilled chicken sandwich under a shady tree. The Dakota Building where John Lennon lived and was shot wasn't far from us so after lunch we walked through to the other side of the park to the corner of W 72nd and Central Park West. It's a beautiful old building built in the early 1880's in an English Victorian style  and one of the most exclusive in New York.

Lennon was shot as he passed through these gates.

You'll pay between four and thirty million to call this place home. There are no plaques here to commemorate what happened here  on December 8 1980. If it wasn't for the constant hum of tourist's , like myself, wanting to see the spot he was gunned down, you would just think it was another old lovely New York building. It's just over the road in Central Park where you'll find Strawberry Fields, a 2.5 acre garden dedicated to his memory and a large mosaic of inlaid stones with the simple word "IMAGINE" in the middle.

Our taxi ride today took us down the posh part of town, down Park and Fifth Avenues and all the tall lime, tan, cream and brownstone apartments with their light racing green canopies out the front and their uniformed doormen opening and closing doors and tipping their hats. Your just waiting for Carrie Bradshaw to come stumbling out in her Manolo Blahniks or Don Draper to come swooning through like a moody 60''s Brian Ferry.  Such a different energy about the place today. Yesterday as we walked through Times Square and down to Grand Central people were constantly at you and in your space, hustling to sell you this and take you here and there. It was all grab, grab, grab and it eventually really got under my skin. Apologies to members of my immediate family for my crabby behaviour. But today, catching a cab and then walking through the hallways and galleries of this amazing place they call The Met, the energy was so different. To be surround by and to drink in all these unbelievable pieces of art was uplifting. It completely refilled me. 

25/06/13 We had big plans to go to the 911 Memorial and then up to do the High Line Park walk which is a one mile elevated walk along an old disused railway line that runs along the lower west side of Manhattan. It has been landscaped into a serene walkway full of places to sit and enjoy a cool breeze off the bay, take in some quality busking or maybe get your fortune read. Instead, it took forever to get the passes we needed to get into the memorial, then we had to join the throng and walk the six blocks to get in. Here we joined another long queue. All on a day that was 102 F. Like all things though, once we were in and leaning against the cool granite of the monuments, feeling the refreshing spray of the cascading waterfalls and taking in the sense of the surroundings, the heat and the annoyance of the queue quickly faded.  The memorial was impressive.
It's a beautiful space, it now radiates a feeling of peace and quiet contemplation

A fitting monument to those who lost their lives
Two enormous sunken squares with cascading waterfalls on all four sides, the water forming a shallow pool before overflowing into a small square chasm in the middle. Around the perimeter of each pool, deeply etched into thick bronze plaques, are the names of each of the those who lost their lives on the 11 September 2001. I would like to come back when all the construction is finished, when the memorial museum is open and it becomes a large open air park that you can wander in and out of. 

By the time we had finished, caught a cab to Greenwich for a very nice veal chop with spaghetti putanessca at Trattoria Spaghetta, walked down to the original Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street for cupcakes and Pecan and Caramel Cheesecake it was 3pm. Time to catch a cab home for a feet up cuppa. 

The original Magnolia Bakery with a new creation, The Dexter

Then, off to the 8pm session of The Blue Man Group.
So not what you'll be expecting, a unique experience
We heard about these guys in Orlando. They have different performers all over the country doing the same show and they are supposed to be particularly brilliant. At what exactly we didn't know, so we were prepared for anything. It has been playing at the the Astor Place Theatre since 1991, so you have to think their doing something right. None of the three members speak during the show but they communicate so much by their expressions and their exhilarating and explosive performances. There is some background dialogue by a narrator and a small backing band but the performance is all in front of you, sometimes beside or behind you and at the end, literally over the top of you. It is a total family show and one like you kids would never have seen before. The boys, particularly Charlie, were spellbound.

26/06/13 The American Museum of Natural History. WOW. How we thought the other day that we were going to do the Met and the AMNH in one day is beyond me. We spent over four hours there today and skipped a lot of stuff. There are five floors packed full of amazing things. 
This monster greets you in the foyer
Like the Met I reckon you need a couple of days. It is of course the place where Night At the Museum with Ben Stiller was set but if your expecting to see any similarities you'll be disappointed. There's no Teddy Roosevelt on his trusty steed with sword held high, no Lewis and Clark the famous explorers and their pretty indian guide, Sacajawea, no minature romans or cowboys, all the exhibits are behind glass, no Ghengis Khan, AND, Dum Dum the Easter Island statue is a fibreglass fake. That I didn't know till we went up close for a photo and tapped on it. Dum Dum was hollow as a drum drum. 
Impressive, but not the real thing
But, there is a boat load of other amazing and very cool things. The Planetarium is a must see. It's an Omni vision production narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. Over a very entertaining 25 minutes your taken back on a journey to the literal beginning of time. Very well done. After that you can spend ages wondering the Cullman Hall of the Universe learning more about Black Holes, listen to a short film on the Big Bang Theory narrated by Liam Neison, touch meteorites, learn about Quarks and more. On the first floor you'll see the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, this is not a few stuffed sea anemone and a couple of rubber sharks. They must have every living thing that ever crawled or swam in the great oceans of the world. The Hall of Human Origins where you can meet Lucy the 3 million year old Hominid that looks like a hobbit, 3000,000 year old  Neanderthal tools and skulls 400,000 years old belonging to what we now call Peking Man.

The list goes on and on, each one as impressive and worthy as the next. All of the Halls with their stuffed mammals, reptiles and birds are so beautifully presented they do such a marvelous job of honouring the animals that are on display.
I've never seen anything like this
Add some sound effects and you'd expect them to come to live
The attention to detail is amazing
One of the highlights would have to be the dinosaurs on the fourth floor, in particular the Saurischian Dinosaurs and the nastiest one on the floor, T-Rex. He is beautiful in his ferociousness.
The most complete T Rex skeleton on the planet
For our final night in New York we did the only sane thing any parents would do under the circumstances. We double locked the kids in the apartment and went out for a lovely Greek feed and a couple of glasses of wine.

Ahh New York , New York, we're gonna start spreadin the news. You are tops with us.

Monday, 24 June 2013

New England, Samuel Clemens, Angkor Pitchu and Huckleberry Van Finburg

Craig Writes;
13/06/13. A quick flight to La Guardia airport, New York, and time to pick up another car for our drive to West Haven. The New Yorkers were not as easily swayed by our larrikin Aussie charm, so no free upgrade. We started with a Jeep Cherokee but it was like trying to squeeze into those jeans you wore when you twenty one. It just didn't fit. So, back to the front desk and some wheeling and dealing to try for the "cave on wheels" we had gotten used too.  For only $10 a day extra we found ourselves back behind the wheel of another monster Yukon. Unbelievably, as we pulled our luggage over to it, we thought it looked a bit bigger than the one we had picked up in Little Rock. Surely not, anything bigger would have to be called a troop carrier. But, sure enough, this massive beast not only had a boot big enough for five cases, four back packs and a large stuffed bear, but they also threw in an extra row of seats. If we wanted we could cancel our accommodation for the next week and live in the car.
We hit the road and made the short trip to West Haven. The traffic coming out of Connecticut was manic but probably expected at 4.30pm on a Friday. It was a short one nighter in another Best Western before hitting the road the next  morning for our seven night stay in a three story house in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Flicking through the brochures at the Best Western we discovered Mark Twains house was only an hour or so out of our way in Hartford Connecticut. So we point the tank in that direction and off we went. So totally worth it. Mark Twain, or Samuel Langhorne Clemens, as his mum and dad would have called him when he was naughty, -"Samuel Langhorne Clemens, you put down that skunk and git on in here, ya hear me"-,built the home in 1874 and stayed there till some dodgy business investments saw him nearly bankrupt and he had to sell up in 1891.
Mark Twains house and home of many of his greatest works
It was a magnificent three story mansion built in the Victorian Gothic style and cost a whopping $45,000 to build and another $40,000 to furnish. A lot of money in those days. He'd done well with his books but it still took most of his wife's fortune and his to finish and when he sold it 17 years later he only got around $43,000. Clemens was a giant of an author but not much of a business man. For such a scholarly wordsmith, two words seemingly not in his vocabulary were,"over" and "capitalize".
Two of these are NOT made of leggo
Huckleberry Van Finburg
A quick stop at The Elizabeth Rose gardens to walk bare foot through the long wet grass and breathe in the perfumed air that only a 100 year old rose garden can give before we turned our attention towards Massachusetts. 
This too could be yours in only 100 years
Dartmouth is a rural area where the houses all seem big, sprawling and set on a descent piece of land.  It's in the state of Massachusetts which is in the region of New England. A region in the northeastern part of the US that comprises the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island . It was one of the first English settlements, way back in 1620 which accounts for the architecture, street, park and town names that hark back to the "old country".  Seven whole days to leisurely discover this beautiful piece of country side and explore this massive house we have to ourselves.
Our stunning homestead in Dartmouth with a huge basement pool room and lounge
17/06/13. A couple of days down the track and what have we done? Well let's see. While not yet complete, 100 metres into the forest at the back of the house, we are 75% of the way to finishing our cubby house. It's got four walls, one courtesy of a massive great boulder, and a roof that, while it wouldn't stand up to 40 days and 40 nights, would offer reasonable shelter to any lost soul who may wander by in need of a dry spot. We have named it Angkor Pitchu. Callum is a big picture kinda guy and once the basic structure was up was more interested in building the next thing, so he's officially of the project.  Charlie's thinking was a little more interested in the detail and was prepared to stick around a bit longer to fill in some of the holes and throw a few leaves on the floor in the way of a bit of interior decorating but I think he may be looking for a new endeavour as well. Personally, it seems to have awoken some old memories in me of the endless days I would spend with my brothers and the local kids making our bush cubbies. We'd dig holes in the ground and cover them with branches, old scraps of tin sheeting and then sand and leaves to hide them. We'd haul bits of timber and tin high up into the branches of Banksia trees and nail them in place. There we could pick the Banksia cones and have hours of fun pretending they were bombs and throwing them at each other. Some of these tree houses would last for months. The dirt caves not so long. We'd camouflage them that well that someone would forget were they were and inevitably go and run over the top of them. The sturdy ones would just buckle, you'd spring board off the tin sheet and the sand would cave in, the really pathetic ones would be like falling into a pit of quick sand, but with jagged rusty tin sheets thrown in. That's how Robbie Siroen lost his toe. It was a dismal effort of a cave by our next door neighbour, Mark Curtis, with two sheets of tin meeting in the middle and just a couple of dodgy twigs as uprights. The only thing he did well was hide it. Robbie comes bounding along, his foot lands smack in the middle of the two sheets which give way pinning his big toe between the two and as his body descends the three feet to the sandy bottom below one sheet slides across the other and, clean as a whistle, slices through most of his big toe.  Very messy.
Anyway, I'm going to go it alone and finish the thing. There is some thing very therapeutic about being out in the bush, scouring for the dead dry stuff, careful not to break or disturb the living. It almost feels like working hand in hand with the bush to make something useful. She's giving up the dead and disused and your putting it to good use. 
We have called this, "Angkor Pitchu", in honour of other great feats of native architecture

Built in the Post Neolithic style with a touch of Pre Modernist Rustic
Anywho, yesterday was Father's Day here in the US so it looks like I get two this year. A nice relaxing day where I didn't have to do a thing. Today, the 17th, we took a drive to New Bedford. A very pretty town about half an hours drive away in Bristol County. It's nickname is The Whaling City because in the 19th century it was one of the major whaling ports in the country and in fact was responsible for supplying most of the whale oil used in the US and back in England. This was all prior to gas or electricity and good clean burning whale oil was the major source of fuel for the lanterns, as well as a sort after machinery lubricant.
The museum is located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill, what a fantastic name. It's three stories are jammed pack with over 750,000 items. The smell of the three massive whale skeletons dangling from the roof hits you the moment you open the two glass doors at the entrance. It's an oily fishy smell that thankfully disappears quickly.

I stood looking up, in awe of the sheer size of them.
What massive beasts
There are over 3500 pieces of scrimshaw, carvings or engravings done on bone or teeth, and some are beautiful. The walking sticks in particular are quite stunning. The half size replica of the Lagoda whaling ship was built inside the museum in 1916 and stretches 89 feet in length. It's sails disappear into the upper reaches of the building.
Very impressive
The Lagoda herself was built in 1826 and remained one of the most successful ships in the whaling fleet till she was sold to the Japanese in 1886. You have to watch your head, but you can scramble all over her and get a bit of a feel for what life aboard would have been like. There are plenty of harpoons to look at and even a bow section showing the dark and crammed living quarters of the crew.
Such a barbaric way to kill such a magnificent beast
For up to three years at a time all they had to call their own was a wooden bunk and a small chest to hold their worldly possessions.
Walking the cobblestone streets of the port area you half expect to see a one legged man with a wooden leg hobble around the corner, pulling his tattered cap down over his brow as his parrot shouts, "thar she blows cappin, thar she blows".

This model was used in the final scenes of the 1956 version of Moby Dick

18/06/13 Another slow day in paradise. A cruise out to Tiverton today for lunch at the Four Corners Grille.  It's a small town in Newport County, Rhode Island with not a lot to say about it except that the Clam Chowder and the Crab Cake Burger are very very good. On the way there we passed through a town called Adamsburg that has Americas oldest General Store. It opened in 1788. Funny really, that morning in January 1788 when they were opening their doors hoping for a brisk days trade, the First Fleet was sailing into Botany Bay hoping not to get speared, drowned or worse.
Supplying all your grocery needs since 1788
19/06/13 The pace here is exhausting. This dragging yourself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 8.30am, pushing yourself to the limit whilst doing 30 minutes of gut wrenching yoga  followed up by a slop of organic granola and cherry yoghurt topped with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and banana for breakfast, it's inhuman. Fortunately my misery ends tomorrow when we make our escape to New York. Haha.
Seriously, this place has been amazing, we've been blessed to find this spot. Another fabulous Christina coup.  Today we head off to Padanaram, a small village in South Dartmouth in Bristol County settled in 1652 and best known for being one of the major whaling ports in the area in the 19th century. Today, it's just a very quaint little town with it's old Colonial Revivalist and late Victorian era houses, art galleries, home wares shops and tasty little eateries.

Just a random little village on our way to Horseneck Beach
After a yummy little lunch we headed to Horseneck beach hoping for a pleasant little walk along a sandy beach, maybe stop and throw up a sandcastle or two. Hhmm, not likely. The Atlantic was having a party and blowing a gale.  Still, it was nice to have the smell of salt air in my nostrils and get a few lung fulls into me.

Nothing like a day at the beach and throwing up a sandcastle or two
Bilbo Baggins Beach House
One last home cooked meal before we hit the road
We were back home and packing up up 3.30, sadly we say goodbye tomorrow and hit the road for a five hour roadie to NY.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

New England Beauties

Christina writes: From the moment we entered Connecticut, all the way through Rhode Island and into Massachusetts, beautiful houses were everywhere. Sometimes they sat plainly at the road edge, other times they glimpsed at you from behind fences and trees.I could have taken hundreds of photos, but most of the time I didn't, instead we enjoyed the drive, exclaiming 'Look at that one - and that one!" For us, it was like driving through a movie set.Here are just a few shots I managed to get out of the car window.