Monday, February 24, 2014

The birthday celebrations are not over yet!

In a quick turnaround - returning to Scotland on Monday, going to work on Tuesday and Wednesday -  I found myself packing for a a very special overnight trip to Cameron House . This was a birthday gift from my daughter.  Does it get better than this?  Of course, I have been accused of celebrating one day for each year of my for me!

And there was a nice dish of sweets waiting as a welcome greeting for me!

This was a lovely treat - overnight in a beautiful hotel.  We had time for a swim in their nice pool, even the water was comfortable and this is unusual for me!  Sitting in the hot tub just enjoying a conversation with my daughter, then a lovely dinner.

Does it get better than that?

Well, how about after dinner cocktails in the fabulous setting of their bar?  We ordered what I consider "family" cocktails.  In my Dad's drinking days, he always ordered a Whisky Sour.  Then my Aunt Marie always had Manhattans.  So just for fun, that was what we ordered.  I ended up with the Manhattan, which I didn't expect!  But it was really good!  Whitney preferred the Whisky Sour, so it worked very well.

In a surprise move, we both had brought new pyjamas for each other!  Great minds must think alike!

The weather was not that great, but in the morning I managed to walk around and enjoy the setting, while Whitney just enjoyed being in the luscious room!

The cocktail bar at night is very impressive, but the views of Loch Lomond from the couches during the day, how can anyone top that?  Next time, this setting will be my morning coffee location!

Here is the plane we really should experience one day!

After a delicious breakfast buffet, we took a shuttle to the Carrick Spa for our hot stone massages.  Mine was a combined Christmas and birthday gift from Whitney's partner.  I had never had a hot stone massage and certainly did not expect the stones to be THAT HOT!  But they were and I had to trust the beauty therapist that they were not going to scar me for life.  Just kidding.  It was a magnificent experience and I am counting the days when I can get another one.

To make this an even more wonderful experience - following the massage, we were shown to the relaxation room, which looked like a harem bedroom.  You really could sit here the rest of the day and read and recharge your batteries.  No pressure at all.  Total bliss.

Once we could tear ourselves away from Paradise, we had a nice drive home.  When I got home, I needed another nap though.....I believe we will go back, even just for a massage!

Thanks to my beautiful daughter for such a lovely day away and total quality time together.

"It is the fine excesses of life that make it worth living."  Richard le Galliene

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Saying Good Bye to NYC

On our last day, Alan and I attempted to catch up with ourselves and do everything we missed, some of it due to weather, some just because our plans were too ambitious.   Poor Alan never did get to visit a firehouse and I did not get to see a show.  But I honestly believe we will return!

 Our first goal was to visit Chinatown.  So we jumped on the subway and went straight there.  Trouble was, being early Sunday morning, nothing was open yet, except for some amazing food stores, with loads of interesting fruits and other things.  But nothing for us to buy, good thing too since our suitcases were filled and stored - ready for checking into our flight!

I was disappointed in Chinatown though, it did not feel as exciting as the Chinatowns in London or San Fransisco.  But this could easily have been because we were just too early in the day.....

Little Italy is next to Chinatown.  Again, we were really too early for this area, since all I has planned to do in Little Italy was eat!

We were cold and tired and decided to do something radical - catch that elusive tour bus we had never really used in the 5 days we were here......ok, we bought a 3 day ticket.  But we only took it about 30 minutes the first day, then the weather shut it down.  Then, we had discovered the subway and really didn't need the security of the bus, which was why we bought the tickets.  However, there is a lot of information to be had on those buses, plus we were cold.  So after all this time, we found one and jumped on it!  (the tickets had been extended due to being shut down on the snow day.  Lucky for us!)

The first thing we noticed when we boarded the bus in Chinatown, is that the next turn found us at Katz Deli!  We were as close to Chinatown that day, as when we were in FAO Schwartz and didn't cross the street to Central Park!

Chrysler Building
Stopping at the UN, which didn't have any flags up and didn't look at all like it does on television....we headed back to Grand Central Station so Alan could do some more fun photos!
I tried this again. But it was more fun the first time!

While he was doing this, I discovered a wonderful food market, shopping area and then a food court! We ended up eating lunch at Tri Tip, steak sandwiches. They were really nice.

Our last stop was back to the Flatiron Building. We had attempted some night photography of this beautiful building our first night in NYC.  This is one of the most beautiful buildings in NYC and it is not lit up at night!  We were really surprised. And even in the day, it is really difficult to get a good angle.

This was our last stop, then back to the hotel, the shuttle to Newark Airport for the journey home.  We were joined on our flight by the crew for Beyonce's Mrs Carter Tour!

I never watched the 3 movies I had intended.  In fact, I struggled to watch The Great Gatsby!  Even though it was really good, I was simply exhausted!  And I was happy to be going back to Scotland!  Even though this was a fantastic 5 days in a beautiful, snowy city, I was ready to go back to normality.

"There's no place like home." Dorothy

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Special Family Connections and Memories in New York City!

Today was such a wonderful day!  I was all rested and ready to make the most of our last full day in this unique city. 

View of Manhattan from ferry

Again, the weather was threatening to spoil another day.  Wait, it never actually spoiled any of our days, but it certainly was threatening again!  So we decided to do the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry tour first thing.  Very lucky decision since, while we were visiting the statue, the weather socked in and we could no longer see Manhattan, and barely could see Ellis Island just across the water!

Alan and I had visited the Statue of Liberty in 1988 but were unable to get much further than the first landing on the stairs. This was due to the fact that the elevator was out of order......I do know the world has changed and folks have to have advance tickets to get to the top.  So I didn't even expect to get up anywhere.  I was pleasantly surprised when we learned that we could go up as high as the pedestal.  However, there is no option of elevator service now......but the climb was worth the experience.  At this point, there still was a view to enjoy!  I was surprised how patriotic I felt just being at the Statue of Liberty, the Star Spangled Banner kept floating through my head! 

Ellis Island with Manhattan in background

Once we got back to the ground level, the snow had come with a vengeance and there was nothing but haze where there once was Manhattan!

Ellis Island
It is only a 5 minute ferry ride from one island to the other, then we found ourselves on Ellis Island. When we were here in 1988, this was not an option.  Although the government has owned the island since the 1960's, one of the Rangers told me they did try to sell it off.  How ridiculous that that was even considered! What an amazing part of American history - over 100 million Americans have ties to this island - and I am proud to say that I am one of them!

The Great Hall

My Grandmother came over from Germany with her mother and sisters. She was only 2 years old!  Although it is possible to do all this research from the comfort of your own home, and I did this about 10 years ago, it is so much more meaningful to actually find these records in the Registry Room!

Ship Manifest
The ship's manifest lists bits of information about the passengers, such as their age and whether they can read or not. In my Grandmother's case, she could not!  But her older sisters and mother could, of course. It also lists intended destination. And the strange thing is it shows them as heading for Belleville, Illinois.  Why is this strange? Because the family folklore has them going to Indiana and moving to Belleville because it was close to St Louis at the time of the World's Fair.  "All" the family knows they went to Indiana first.  And the lure of the World's Fair happened in the early 1900's.  If they arrived in 1893, the attraction of the World's Fair had not begun to pull people toward St Louis.
So many questions and no one to answer them.....
continuation of manifest

My Grandma!

a sight not normally seen in Battery Park
After spending almost 2 hours on the island, and this felt like 15 minutes because it was all so exciting and interesting, we decided to get back to Manhattan!  

Again, when we were here last, you could see this little church from the water. But now there is a coast guard station blocking most of the view.  I love the fact this little church is not for moving!

After such an interesting morning, it was lunchtime, so we got on the subway and went in search of Katz Deli!  This is where the famous scene from When Harry met Sally was filmed, where another customer asks to have what she had!  We had a Reuben Sandwich and a Pastrami Sandwich.....delicious!

It is self service and incredibly busy.  You get a ticket when you enter, everyone gets one, and they write what you ordered and what it cost on the ticket.  Even if your ticket is blank, you have to submit it to the cashier when leaving.  A strange system, but it seems to work.

Alan had never had pastrami and tried this.  Luckily, he really enjoyed it.  I got a Reuben sandwich.  I love these and they always remind me of my Dad.  After all, he introduced me to them!

Chaos appears to reign!

Alan speaking the international language of camera!

You would think this was enough activity for one day, but we had tickets to see Enrique Inglesias at Madison Square Garden for 8pm!  So we had a bit of a rest at the hotel.  This hotel is located so close to MSG and the Empire State Building that it is easy to walk there.  And it did feel nice to be able to walk and not fight traffic or crowded subways!

Of course, we passed the Empire State Building, looking very spooky this evening -

And we also passed an Arthur Murray Dance Studio.  The whole day was filled with memories of family, from Ellis Island, to Reuben Sandwiches and now Arthur Murray! How is that connected?  My Dad and Mom met at the Arthur Murray dance studio in St Louis!  They were both dance instructors!

Our last activity of the day was the concert.  This was an amazing cultural experience, not due to his singing or even the show.   We are not really Enrique fans.  But to watch this mainly Hispanic crowd and feel like such a minority. The majority of the concert was in Spanish and the majority of the audience had their phones recording and taking pictures and talking to friends the whole time.  I think we have crossed a line and are maybe in the older generation now!  But it was an event and experience at the Madison Square Garden and I am glad we did this!

The joy of walking to an event!

MSG full house!

The walk home was cold and snowy but so nice.  I am falling in love with this city, but not sure if I would love it so much under normal circumstances!

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Celebrating Valentine's Day, not New York Style - but Graham style!

After such a busy day playing in the snow,  I woke up exhausted! Possibly having to walk so carefully all day took a toll on my leg muscles because it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other the whole day. But I really tried not to let this hold us back!

The first thing we did this morning was take the Aerial Tramway to Roosevelt Island.  I had read about this on Tripadvisor and it sounded amazing.  Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram

It is odd to have a tram crossing over the river and I just had to experience this for myself.  And it is rated 45 out of 820 things to do in NYC on Tripadvisor.

It is also very sweet, but it is not that fantastic.  Peaceful and not expensive at all, just the cost of a subway ride.  The island itself is tiny!  And was covered in snow, so we really just got off, walked around a bit and got back on.

Views of the crossing, bottom photo- Roosevelt Island on right, Manhattan on left

It was a short walk from the tram to Central Park. And we realised we were almost there when we were at FAO Schwartz the day before!  Actually, we were just across the street!  But had no idea at the time, and probably did not have the energy to even cross the street at that point in the day!

We made it to Central Park!

On this day Central Park was covered in snow and a bit treacherous, but it was nice to see it.  I had hoped to take a horse drawn carriage ride through the park and they were there today.  But it was so cold and the walkways and paths were ice covered.  It just did not inspire me.

Central Park didn't look so snowy from here

From there, we walked back Rockefeller Centre to go up to the Top of the Rock!  At first, the upper stories were closed due to ice and snow, but they opened while we were there.  Boy oh boy was it COLD up there!  But the view was amazing.

At the base of The Rock is a shopping area and really great eating area.   We checked out the cafe, which had so many different choices, I wish I could have gone back a few more times....the seating area is at the skating rink level, with glass door/windows so it is easy to watch.  It looked like these might be open in better weather.  In the photo on the left, you can see the windows, the wording above them is Rock Center.

Yesterday, all the flags were down probably due to the weather, but today - the skating rink had all flags up!   Even with the residue of all the snow, it was totally business as usual all over NYC...

The main goal for Alan, today, was to walk across Brooklyn Bridge.....remember?  We tried that a few days ago and I had to bail due to being too tired.  This time? I was even more tired.  I even managed to grab a quick hot chocolate at Starbuck's in the hope I could convince Alan to go ahead without me!  No such luck.

Don't get me wrong, this is an easy walk and well worth doing, I was just really, really tired.  However, I am delighted I did this and even more grateful we took the subway back to the hotel!

Alan looking forward to this walk!
View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge

Abandoned cars in DUMBO
What is DUMBO?

After this adventure, we went back to our hotel and I had a nap.  That was the perfect thing for me to do because then we walked to the Empire State Building for sunset!

this was our daily view of the Empire State Building, always different lights and looks

My view on arriving at the top!
A few minutes later

Oh, did I mention it was Valentine's Day?   We discovered the best Japanese Restaurant virtually at our back door!  It seems to go by a few different names, but the card I got says Ace Sushi.  The restaurant was empty when we arrived, and only one other couple came in.  This usually scares me with eating places, but the menu was so inspiring and the prices were surprisingly reasonable considering our location!  We both ordered Tempura, I got shrimp and vegetables and Alan got Chicken.  Both absolutely superb.  I don't think I will ever eat tempura again so as not to erase the memory of this meal!

I don't think any normal couple "does" touring the way we do.  It is exhausting and sometimes not very fun,  But the memories and experiences are priceless and well worth the effort.

This quote is one of my Dad's jokes:   An optimist fell off the Empire State Building. At every floor window he would look in and say "Ok so far!"