A Travellerspoint blog

New York City, a photo tour

semi-overcast 17 °C

East Village - Our Neighbourhood

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Our front door at the East Village Bed & Coffee. This was a great place to stay, its communal lounges an ideal environment in which to share tales and a glass of wine with other travellers. Particularly memorable was the German couple who'd travelled over for the weekend to get married at City Hall.

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Decoration at one of the many nearby community gardens.

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We spent quite a bit of time hovering at the Tompkins Sq Park dog park shown here. Hilarious canine and human interaction.

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Squirrels, what can we say? We love em. This Tompkins Sq Park resident is munching on peanuts we bought from a street vendor on our trip to Chinatown. (After our bowl of Pho and before our stroll through Little Italy).

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A few streets from our base on Avenue C is St Mark's Place, a hip and vibrant spot for good eats and quirky stores and residences.

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New Yorkers love their pets - here we have 'holistic petcare' in the East Village.

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Obama optimism abounds.

NYC Subway

For easy access to Manhattan, we purchased a 14 day metrocard. From that moment, we gleefully jumped on and off subways, gave directions and travel advice to the locals (on at least four occasions) and allowed our eyes to bug out at the big black rats running along the tracks.

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Subway entertainment

For speed and efficiency, travelling by subway is the way to go but if you want to remain above ground and take a bus, you may discover as we did, how incredibly kind, patient and helpful New York City bus drivers are. Buses are often late and take a long time to reach their destinations, not just because of the notorious Manhattan traffic but because of the behaviour of the drivers.

In New York City bus drivers:
1. Stop, get off the bus and spend whatever time is necessary to gently help the elderly or disabled onto the vehicle.
2. Spend the time explaining routes and stops to confused or forgetful passengers in a speech devoid of the grunts, shrugs and impatient sighs some New Zealand bus drivers are so good at.
3. Refrain from driving off until everyone is seated.
4. Greet you in a friendly way.

The way people are the driver's first concern is well worth the extra time.

Museum Visiting

At the Met:

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MOMA:

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Food in the Land of the Free

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What is a trip to New York without sampling the ubiquitous hotdog?

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Phil, putting coronary risk aside, mans up and eats a Twinkie. My tastebuds, after one bite, pronounced the sticky, spongy object to be unworthy of consumption.

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Pizzamania

Times Square

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Crowded and impossibly glitzy - Times Square at night.

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A little further up the street, crowds stopped and smiled at the newly-weds having photos taken.

NYC Public Library

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Catalogue searching...

Central Park

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Peace and tranquility surrounded by skyscrapers

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Central Park Zoo residents such as this dwell in the tropical house and, not far from here, a kea sits looking a little sad to be in an enclosure without car roof vinyl and window rubber to destroy.

Empire State Building

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Wall Street and the Financial District

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We couldn't dodge the 30 or 40 middle-aged tourists groping the enormous bronze bull for the best photos but the irony of posing with the bull-market bull in a recession didn't escape us as we slipped past on the bus. We also visited Battery Park and Ground Zero while in the downtown area.

Out and About

- A blur of swanky poodle shops, freebies on the streets, Phil being told off for walking too close to a cop in Penn Station, gyro stalls, Radio City Music Hall ....

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Brooklyn Bridge

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Grand Central Station and me, v small and happily insignificant, in the middle.

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The big lady from France

Posted by echo75 12:43 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Without further delay .... The Big Apple

semi-overcast 21 °C

29 September - 14 October

There’s nothing I can say about New York that isn’t a cliché because, in many ways, New York is a cliché. Innumerable representations in film and television have seen to that and walking the streets for the first time, gives you a strange sense of deja vu. From the top of the Empire State Building you can see that 7 out of 10 vehicles on Manhattan streets really are yellow cabs and steam really does billow up from the manholes in the street. Still, the first time I stumbled upon Madison Avenue, Broadway and the NYPD, I couldn’t help but feel a thrill. From the New York Public Library to the Statue of Liberty and from Central Park to Wall Street, Manhattan is a living movie landscape.

We stayed in the East Village, Manhattan for the first fortnight in October. The group of streets that became our stomping ground is referred to as ‘Alphabet City‘. Once a derelict ghetto of drug dealers, prostitution and the homeless, Alphabet City is now a lively community of artists and families of all cultures. Our first night in New York we ate dinner two doors down on Avenue C or Losaida as it is dually named at a Serbian restaurant. The following morning we were served breakfast by a Latino man in a Russian Diner - all in the US of A.

There were aspects of New York that we noticed immediately. For one thing, New Yorkers were far, far more friendly than their reputation dictates. Also, New York City is a far leafier, greener, happier and more community-minded place than I’d imagined. Community park plots are dotted throughout the East Village, decorated by local children and artists. In New York there are more crazies than I’d expected, some particularly endearing such as the gentleman on 14th Street repetitively screaming, “Kiss my ass, whitey” as we (or anyone really) walked past. Finally, to our great surprise, we found that New York City is home to the fattest, meanest and most persistent mosquitoes we’ve seen on our entire trip.

New York: we loved it. To follow... an excessive amount of photos. Enjoy.

Posted by echo75 12:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Boing

sunny

25 November - Night before Thanksgiving

Leaping forward in space and time, imagine if you will, that you've already read the blogs on New York City, our arrival and first weeks in Temecula, our train trip up the Pacific Coast, stopover in Seattle and our two weeks in Vancouver, Canada ... they're coming but, for the moment, we're back in Temecula, California and it's the night before Thanksgiving.

Feeling bloated and a little tipsy from a hearty pizza dinner at Fillipi's, family and friends have begun to descend. Tomorrow, my gracious hostess informs me, there is to be 22 adults, 8 children and well 3 dogs (I think) for Thanksgiving. In an enormous home, all rooms and couches are full tonight and, as I write this, I hear voices downstairs in animated conversation.

Despite impending Thanksgiving celebrations, I never knew or thought to ask what it all means. To me it was simply 'that American holiday from the movies'. From the lively and most reliable source "Wikipedia" (sic) it seems that Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, however there seems to be some argument between wikipedia and wikipedia on this point as the same source on one hand says it's a harvest festival and on the other something to do with some Spanish folk who showed up somewhere by Florida, and then of course there's the pilgrims - maybe I was better not to bother looking into it. The harvest festival precept for an autumnal celebration makes some sense because why oh why would intelligent American women get stuck with the enormous job of cooking for squillions of people so close to Christmas only to turn around a month later and do it all again?

I dredge the cinematic pastiche in my mind of this all-American holiday and what spews forth is a montage of: children performing badly in elaborate turkey costumes, blokes drinking beer in lounges bursting with NFL (Dallas Cowboys v Raiders tomorrow) while women have major heart to hearts about serious life issues or just get on each other's nerves in the kitchen, presidential turkey pardons, travel delays and traffic jams, fancy orange leaf designs and huge feasts.

Anyway, forget for a moment that I have this shallow and flimsy understanding of this holiday and look at these great pumpkins pies baked fresh this morning:

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(I beat some eggs and, with help, took the lids off the cans of pie filling. My culinary prowess is growing.)

Today was spent hovering and helping with some small Thanksgiving preparations and carousing in the somewhat incongruous Southern Californian sun. Tomorrow? We'll I'll tell you about that later. Maybe.

Post Script: Thanksgiving over now. A predictably giddy and chaotic event. Much good food and conversation with only the minimum of interpersonal ructions.

Posted by echo75 22:29 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Seclusion

semi-overcast 32 °C

21 - 24 September

Around a bend, an island came into view crowned with a grand two storey wooden house. A intimidatingly large brown Doberman barked from the balcony as we approached the jetty. We climbed out of the boat next to a tiny sand beach with palms and sun loungers. I smiled weakly and thanked the water taxi guys as we paid them and struggled up the path with our luggage. Before we got far, a smiling young Panamanian woman met us and welcomed us. We were shown to our beautiful room over-looking the water and I crawled into the carved, four-poster bed to sleep off my torpor. Meanwhile, Phil was also starting to feel a little off-colour.

The resort is on a private island and run by two immensely hospitable Americans (formerly from the Florida Keys). It is an intimate environment, more like staying in someone’s home than staying in a hotel and it has the sort of seclusion that encourages a relaxed, ’clothing optional’ approach. To our relief though, everyone remained fully clad during our stay. There are, if memory serves, just 3 rooms to the left of which is a thatched bar/dining area and, to the right, the two storey wooden house that is the owners’ home. The pool is the centre piece of this arrangement and, in the four days we spent there, we spent a lot of time swimming around its blue mosaic dolphin or reading in the hammocks around the pool.

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If we didn’t want to hang out by the pool then we could lie in a hammock on the balcony of our room and look out over the water. Tiny emerald hummingbirds jostled at the feeder hanging from the rafters and a small boa constrictor slept in the hibiscus next to us. From time to time great flocks of green parrots would fly overhead with cries that made them sound as if their wings needed oil.

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View from the balcony of our room

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Balcony hammock

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Our snake

Meal times were spent talking to the owners and a Chicago couple staying who recently bought a property next door and were here while they fixed it up. In true US expat fashion, they spoke no Spanish and relied heavily on our hosts to help them establish themselves. I felt a nudge to my leg and looked down into the confident brown eyes of Malo, his stump of a tail twitched and I reached out my hand to stroke his velvet forehead. He ambled off to find his squeaky ball while heated discussion about topics I forget (usually something about how primitive or lazy Panamanians are or how the world’s gone to hell in a hand-basket or of course how Somalian pirates should all be blown away with high powered firearms).

“You finished with that, Baby?” Mariana* called everybody “Baby” and she reached over with a smile and took my dinner plate. A sweet and lovely Panamanian woman who would do anything for you to make your stay better, she was one of two staff on the island who lived there fulltime. While she proclaimed her English was terrible, it still appeared quite a bit better than my Spanish and I often wondered (but thought it inappropriate to ask) what she and her colleague made of the loud conversations about the faults of her countrymen she couldn’t help but overhear at the dinner table each night. When a topic became too mortifying, I extracted myself and crossed over to look at the tank with the little red frogs in it. There were 30 or 40 of them there, vivid orange/red and so tiny that they could sit comfortably in a teaspoon.

As soon as we were well enough, Mariana helped us gather the equipment together to take a kayak out around the island. You could in fact, paddle right over to Isla Bastimentos and the famous “Red Frog Beach” but with limited strength we decided to stick reasonably close to the island. Malo gave us an excited send off on the jetty and, at one point, I thought he was going to launch himself into the kayak. We paddled away, the sea slapping the bottom of our kayak.

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Malo

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Out here, there was little of the boat traffic that made kayaking off Isla Colon daunting, we bounced along one way and then turned a corner to silence and stillness. The current disappeared and the surface of the water turned glassy. In the water beneath we could see dinner-plate-sized orange starfish. We paddled close in to the mangrove and looked hopefully for snakes and higher in the trees on land for the sloth that I’ll never find. Crabs scuttled along low mangrove branches and plopped into the water.

We paddled silently past a couple of two storey houses (more expats we suspected) and, further out back into the main waterway where we slipped into the heart of a mangrove island. The small branches kept us from being drawn away by the current. We sat for some time, bobbing on the water before manoeuvring ourselves out again. In a much larger mangrove island sat a small, unpainted wooden house. With much curiosity we snuck past in our kayak. We were a little embarrassed when we saw a family of Ngöbe-Buglé people on the porch but to our relief they waved and smiled and made us feel less like intruders. Their dog , on the other hand, we thought would lose his furry little mind. Barking and leaping along the family’s wooden walkways, he bounded as close as he could to us. Unfortunately, the walkways ran out and try as he might, the excited creature could not balance on the mangrove branches to advance any further. We paddled away and headed back to our island.

  • Not her real name.

Posted by echo75 16:39 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Island Time

sunny 35 °C

16-20 September

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In Bocas town, the bars and restaurants dominate the water’s edge and American residents of more remote islands tromp by your table with large bottles of orange juice and other provisions to their moorings and then speed off with their friends in a frenzy of beer, butt-cracks and bikinis. Most boats have onboard chilly bins from which refreshments are quickly obtained by tanned fingers.

As we sit at a table on a long jetty and eat our home-made chilli and steak sandwich doused in famous, local “Killing Me Man Sauce” a small blonde boy catches crabs and makes them race each other in clean ashtrays. Two restaurants down, we see a girl in a bikini slip quietly off the back of the hotel into the clear green water. A few bends further around the island we spent a day doing the same thing: swimming with the schools of little fish off the back deck of our hotel’s restaurant. Other guests lounged in the shade of the restaurant reading guidebooks, writing in journals or sunning themselves.

Unfortunately, in part due to our super-sun-sensitive anti-malaria pills but also a lack of planning, Phil got a little too much sun that day. For the following week, he stingingly and pinkly discovered a new layer of skin.

After feeling more than a little non-plussed by our cramped, run down and haplessly managed hotel, we swapped to a bright yellow and blue three-storeyed one on the other side of the island which, for the same amount gave us a pleasant and airy room with a fridge, cable television, balcony and shower that was not a concrete box at the foot of the bed. On the night before we were due to travel to our new accommodation on Isla Solarte, I became far more acquainted with this bathroom than I would’ve liked after eating a pizza that had me retching every half hour through the night.

I sat with my arms wrapped around my pack, a small, pale, unsmilingly creature, waiting for the water taxi to Solarte which was late. I hadn’t thrown up for an hour now which was particularly good news as the sign on the toilet conspicuously read: “No Funciona”. I stared at my feet as the boat skimmed over the waves, leaving Bocas Town behind and heading towards a green mass of mangroves.

Posted by echo75 12:13 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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