I didn’t think I’d like Disney World. The kids. The strollers. The cranky parents. The constant barrage of Disney-branded products. And that damned Mickey head everywhere! Really, it sounds like my worst nightmare.
But it wasn’t that bad. Okay, sure, it was cheesy, and there really was a constant barrage of Disney-branded products. It was crowded, expensive, and the weather sucked. But oddly, I had a pretty decent time. We spent our first day in Animal Kingdom, which is basically a large zoo. Day two was dedicated to Magic Kingdom, which is the Disneyland replica. And day three found us in Epcot. Yes, we chose to forgo MGM, since neither of us cares that much about rollercoasters or movie trivia.
I can’t say I can really pick a favourite among the parks. I enjoy zoos (at least ones that have decent animal enclosures and work hard on conservation efforts and so forth), and they had some decent attractions. The Magic Kingdom had quite a few good attractions, and I particularly enjoyed the Haunted Mansion (some of the effects there are quite impressions) and Space Mountain. Of course, the Dream Fastpasses we won, which allowed us to hit each FP-enabled ride once whenever we wanted, were pretty darn nice as well. And Epcot has some fantastic simulators (the space simulator was particularly impressive), and a ridiculous fireworks show at the end of the evening.
So, yeah, overall, good experience.
After that, we visited Lenore’s friend Michelle and her family in Alabama, which included a visit to the Huntsville Space and Rocketry center, which is run by NASA. That was very cool, and gave me a chance to see the Pathfinder shuttle, a real Saturn V rocket, as well as a vertically standing replica (the Saturn V will actually collapse under it’s own weight if it’s stood vertically without being fueled), and a ton of other artifacts, including a capsule from one of the Apollo missions. Very cool stuff. And, as a bonus, one of Michelle’s friends, a guy by the name of Andre, joined us. Andre works at NASA. Andre was involved in the Cassini mission, and now finds himself working on the liquid stage for the Ares I rocket!
So, in the end, a good trip. Exhausting, but good.
Well, trip number two has come to a close, this time a jaunt out to Regina for some mom-time with Linda! As usual, food was abundant, as was amusement (and slightly hurt feelings :) with the copy of Ticket To Ride that we purchased and hauled along. Among other things that were accomplished, I:
- Proved to myself that my knitting needles (as previously mentioned) would easily get through airport security (they didn’t even register on the X-Ray, so far as I know).
- As a result of 1, half-finished Lenore’s new hat. Unfortunately, I ran out of yarn, as I neglected to bring a second ball.
- Finished reading “Red_Mars”, a rather largish tome by Kim Stanley Robinson which details the terraforming of Mars.
- Learned how to make Cabbage Rolls! Linda is an excellent tutor. :)
- Started reading “Robots and Empire”, by the legendary Isaac Asimov.
And on the topic of Red Mars, a mini review. In short, it’s a massive vision, incredibly detailed and realistic. Characterization is good, though the dialog a little unbelievable at times. The plot can be a bit ponderous, and Robinson seems to relish showing off his knowledge of Mars topography, going on for pages describing the Martian landscape. The discussion of the sociological impacts of Martian colonization are quite fascinating, particularly in conjunction with new technologies that are invented in the course of the story.
In short, highly recommended for anyone into hard science fiction and who can stand a healthy dose of Tolkein-esque verbosity.
Yes, that’s right… day 4. Today, the flight plan was to catch a plane from Newark to Toronto at 6:20, with a connecting flight from Toronto to Edmonton later in the morning, which had us arriving some time before lunch. So, we awoke in our tiny hotel room at a mind-numbing 3:30, caught the E train to Penn Station around 4:10 (the subway is slow that early in the morning), grabbed the NJT at 4:40 (the plan was to catch the 4 :20, so we were already running late), arrived at the Newark Airport around 5:10 or so, waited in line for around ten minutes, cursing the slow people in front of us, and then discovered that our flight had been canceled.
Yeah. Cancelled. Reason: freezing rain in Toronto.
So, here I am, tapping away, waiting for a 9:20 flight to TO, and upon arrival, we’ll be hanging out in the airport for a good 8 hours, so we can catch an evening connecting flight back home. How I love air travel…
On the bright side, the ticket agent was very friendly and did his best to get us on a reasonable flight plan. And we got a free breakfast out of the deal, too (do you suppose The Great American Bagel Factory is affiliated with The Great Canadian Bagel? Because they make a fine fine egg sandwich on a delicious jalapeno and cheddar bagel). OTOH, now we get to fight through a day of travel. Woo. Woo.
Okay, that Air Canada travel agent is frickin’ awesome. Not only did he get us on a flight directly to TO instead of my original flight plan of Montreal -> Toronto -> Edmonton (lenore was scheduled to go through Chicago), but for the TO leg, we’re in first class! Seriously, this is fantastic… nice, padded, not-rock-hard chairs. Tons of leg room. Two full armrests. Truly, this is the life. ‘course, last I heard, there was a gate hold in place, and we’re 25th in line for takeoff, meaning 45 minutes of taxi time, but hey, that just means more time in first class!
Good grief… we’re in executive class for the second leg, too! Air Canada ticket agent guy, I love you (in a platonic way)!
I have the New York Photo Gallery uploaded!
Well, it’s 11:06, and already we’ve had an adventure. For kicks, we decided to take a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram which takes one from Manhattan, near the Queensboro Bridge, to Roosevelt Island. The plan was to see the Manattan skyline from both the tram as well as South Point Park, where we also planned to check out the Roosevelt Memorial contained therein.
Well, the tram ride was certainly enjoyable, affording an impressive view of the north-east skyline, though unfortunately obscured by fog and low rain clouds. Upon arriving, we hopped the bus (25c!) and rode around the north half of the island. We then took a walk to the south end, where we found this:
Yes… apparently that is South Point Park. I think the barbed wire is quite nice, but the corregated steel we encountered later was even nicer. We never did see a memorial to Roosevelt (as it turns out, there is no memorial on that site, despite it seemingly appearing on maps).
So we proceeded to walk up the east side of the island, which offered lovely views of what looked like a garbage dump in Queens, not to mention a rundown hospital, all the while occasionally encountering lovely little fire boxes, perfect for a nice picnic while enjoying this image which looks like a shot straight from the movie Conspiracy Theory:
Such a lovely place, don’t you think?
Anyway, on the bright side (for Lenore), Bloomingdales is just down the street from the tram (on the Manhattan side), which has given her time to shop, and me time to tap this out.
(Now in the Pierson Airport)
So after Bloomingdales, we decided to split up. I went off to TKTS to secure our place at… well, any show with seats available. Meanwhile, Lenore decided to head off to Old Navy. The funny thing is, I ended up second in line, after arriving at around 1:30 pm (it opens at 3:00, as you may or may not recall). On the bright side, I got to enjoy conversation with a very nice, friendly old British couple and a nice young Irish woman who was visiting with her Aunt. And I also got my choice of shows, and that meant Phantom of the Opera! Of course, this also meant I was done around 3:10, and the plan was for Lenore to meet me there at 3:30. For the record, she arrived at 4:00. Thanks Lenore. ;)
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking back to the hotel to drop off Lenore’s various purchases. Though, along the way, at my beckoning, we made a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is, without question, one of the most beautiful buildings I have had the pleasure to explore and my favorite building in Manhattan. Enormous vaults, beautiful frescos and alters to various saints, a stunning pipe organ… it dwarfs the AMNH in grandeur, and trust me, that’s saying a lot. I tried to capture a bit of it on film, but as is often the case with such buildings, you really had to be there.
Anyway, once we dropped Lenore’s gear off, we walked to our restaurant of choice, a nice little Italian place called Nocello’s, also coincidentally well-rated by Zagat (I actually found the place online). I had a fantastic Risotto with fried scallops, sun dried tomatoes, and what was, hands down, the best shrimp I have ever had (very simply grilled… I don’t know what they did to them, but they were amazing). Meanwhile, Lenore had a terrific mushroom tortellini, and we lead the whole thing off with a wonderful grilled calamari. Yes, grilled, not fried! Again, very simple, but incredibly delicious, and presented over a very nice salad. Mmmmm…
And then there was the show. I think it goes without saying that it was absolutely amazing. The stage, the costumes, the singing… all absolutely wonderful. And there we only two people who tried to take pictures!
So day two in NYC, and the big plan is the American Museum of Natural History! Apparently rated the number 2 tourist attraction in the United States, this Museum boasts an extremely large and varied collection of displays, artifacts, and attractions covering an incredibly wide range of topics, as well as a planetarium and IMAX theatre. Definitely enough stuff to keep us occupied for a full day. And let me tell you, definitely did that.
We started with breakfast at a place called Pax, which is a kind of new-agey fast food restaurant which offered a variety of breakfast options, not to mention pastries and deserts (we proceeded to eat here a number of other times, as the food was quite good, and it happened to be just up the street from the hotel). Afterward, we enjoyed another subway debacle. The plan was to take the E line to the 50th street station, where we’d transfer to the A and take that straight up to the museum. Sounds pretty easy, until you realize that, thanks to the holiday (turns out this was Martin Luther King Day weekend), the A line wasn’t stopping at the 50th street station. Doh! Of course, we didn’t discover this until after we’d gotten off at said station. So we had to wait until another E arrived so we could continue to the 49th street station, where we caught the A.
As for the museum itself, thanks to our Super Saver passes, we had access to the Butterfly exhibit, the IMAX production which told the story of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, and a Planetarium show entitled “Cosmic Collisions”. And then there was the rest of the truly massive museum to visit. Frankly, I don’t think I can properly express the scale of this thing, but I can tell you that, in our full day there, we only saw a fraction of what was offered. Not only was there a bewildering number of things to see, but each item was also labelled with a variety of historical information, meaning there was a ton to read too. One of my personal favorites was a display on astronomical scale. Using the planetarium sphere as a baseline, it would then present models to provide perspectives on different objects, ranging from galaxy clusters all the way down to hydrogen atoms. As an example, it would present a sphere, and the description would be “If the Sun was the size of the planetarium sphere, the this model would be the size of the earth”. Truly awesome.
Then there was the butterfly exhibit. Though, in order to get there, we had to go through a room which I can only describe as breathtaking. Vaulted ceilings reaching up three stories, massive columns, gorgeous murals on the wall… just wonderful, particularly for an architecture junky like myself. As for the exhibit, it offered a variety of information about butterfly species, growth and development, evolution, and so forth, and then led you into an enclosure with a wide variety of the insects flying freely. It was quite incredible, and allowed me to capture a few wonderful shots of some of the species represented. And I was even lucky enough to have a butterfly land on my finger (while taking a photo) and the top of my head! Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough to photo-document either event.
As for other exhibits, I also quite enjoyed the vast collection of central and south american artifacts they had, including an enormous head created by the Aztecs, as well as their extensive meteorite and gem stone collections. Really fantastic stuff.
And, of course, there are the diaramas, which attempt to depict various animals and peoples in their native habitats. The artwork really is wonderful, and the descriptions to go with the displays are quite interesting.
As for the IMAX and Planetarium shows, both were very good, though admittedly, I have seen more impressive presentations. Still, quite enjoyable.
Of course, lunch was eaten at the Museum (pizza and mozarella sticks… I don’t think we could’ve eaten a less healthy meal). As for dinner, we decided to try out the fancy-appearing restaurant that was, literally, next door to our hotel. Turns out it’s rated fairly well in the Zagat guide, and for good reason, as Lenore’s Filet Mignon was quite nice, and my tuna (rare) was delicious as well. We bookended the meal with a nice wild mushroom ravioli in a truffel sauce, and a fantastic hot chocolate gateau which encased a soft chocolate center, accompanied by a hazelnut ice cream. Delicious. Especially with the glass of 40 year old port I ordered.
So not a bad day. Certainly better than day 1.
Our first day in, and it sure didn’t take long for things to get interesting.
At the outset, we knew we would need to grab some food, so we decided to head over to Macy’s, having eaten there before. This would also allow us to satiate our appetite and possibly do a little shopping at the same time. They have a decent little fast-food pasta place down there, and so that was the goal… unfortunately, the pasta bar wasn’t open when we got there, and in fact never opened. Jerks! So we ended up at a bar/grill next store, which actually worked out reasonably well.
After that, we took the subway from Penn Station up to 53rd and Lexington, at which point it was a quick walk to our hotel. Well, on the walk from the station to the hotel, we came across a small fire station, built right into the bottom of a high-rise (in retrospect, I really should have taken a picture, as it really was quite strange, and positioned up the street from what appeared to be a makeshift police detachment, composed of a series of trailors (yes, trailors) consuming one of the lanes). Not too remarkable by itself. Until you add the firetruck outside with a bunch of firefighters standing around. Oh, and the other firefighter scaling the wall of the building, trying to worm his way in through an open window a storey up.
Apparently, they locked themselves out.
So, after chuckling to ourselves, we moved on to our hotel, which, as it turns out, was just completing a large series of renovations, transforming itself into The Pod Hotel. And why “The Pod”, you ask? Well, the name better reflects the rooms, which can only be described as little pods… in our case, a 2-300 square foot little space with enough room for a slightly-larger-than-double bed, sink, and weird little combined shower/toilet area, all decked out in modern, Ikea-style chrome and melamine. Pretty nice, actually, considering the price and location. And, really, what else does one need other than a bed and shower (though, as we discovered later, the shower drain was either slow or non-functional, and allowed water to leak into the room, thus soaking the carpet… good thing we only planned to be there for four nights).
If only the rest of the day turned out as well. It was best described as semi-controlled anarchy. First, we figured we’d check out TKTS, with the goal of seeing a show some time in the evening. ‘course, we arrived at around 3:30, at which point the line up was three rows wide and down and around the block. Yeaaaah, no.
So then we went to scope out the American Museum of Natural History (the plan was to go on day 2 or 3, but we wanted to check out “the sitch” first), then perhaps dinner and a movie. Well, part one worked out, and we got a tiny preview of what was to come. The trip to the movie wasn’t nearly so smooth… turns out the V line, which takes one from 50th and 8th down to the NYU area doesn’t run on the weekends… grrrr! Unfortunately, by the time we figured that out, we were already too late for the film…
Okay, no movie, let’s try for The Soda Shop for food and desert. Hop the E, get off on 8th Ave and Washingon (if I recall), walk down a few blocks and… Le Bonbonniere?? sigh Yeah… I took us to the wrong frickin’ restaurant.
Okay, backtrack, hop back on E, take it down to Chambers. This time it works! A bit of walking, and we find ourselves at a cute little restaurant and ice cream shop in what I think is called the West Village. Tasty food, yummy desserts, and a selection of candy that I hadn’t seen in years. Good times were had by all (I think).
Lastly, before headin’ back to the hotel for some much earned rest, we decided to walk down to the WTC site and memorial. Definitely a sobering experience… though, now all that’s left is a construction site that makes it hard to believe the two massive towers even existed (apparently the plan is to build a new tower on the old site… I have very mixed feelings about that plan, but, such is life). The memorial that’s currently there (a new, permanent one is planned to be built sometime in the future) is also very moving, with various photos and so forth. Though, I gotta admit, the constant reference to the victims of that attack as “heros” irritates me more than a little.
And that was day 1… confused, disorganized, and basically par for the course.
Okay, not really globetrotting, but recently Lenore and I decided to take advantage of a deal that Air Canada has going on right now. The gist? For the months of January and February, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we have unlimited flights to select Canadian and US cities! And the cost? A mere $800 per person. Virtual peanuts! And as a bonus, we’ve talked to our manager, and he okayed us to bank time so that we can take Mondays off without burning holidays, which means we can take some little weekend trips (or the odd big one)!
Of course, you may be asking yourself, where on earth will we go? Well, as it turns out, we have a couple of plans. The first trip we came up with will commence on the 13th of February, and will have us flying to Orlando, Florida, with the goal of spending three days at Walt Disney World! Should be good fun. The second leg of the trip will take us to Atlanta for another three days, where we’ll be visiting one of Lenore’s Intarweb friends. Of course, to get there, we have to fly from Orlando to Toronto, then from Toronto to Atlanta. You can probably guess why: Air Canada doesn’t fly between US cities. But, so it goes… at least I’ll have plenty of time to read, knit, etc, etc.
Anyway, that trip alone makes the passes worth it. But today Lenore suggested another trip for the weekend of January 13th (I think): We’re gonna go back to NYC! Now, granted, we’ve already been there a few times, but there’s always a ton of things to see and do there. And we can set up the flights such that we arrive early Saturday morning, and come back Tuesday afternoon, which makes for a nice little trip with nearly three full days in the city. As for things to do, we’ve already bought tickets to the Museum of Natural History, which we’ve never been to, and should be absolutely fantastic, and there’s always Broadways shows, the library, and I’m sure many many other things.
As for other trips, who knows. Lenore has been talking about heading back to Regina to visit her mom. And there’s always Ottawa, Vancouver, Las Vegas, and who knows what else. ‘course, there’s only so many weekends left, so it’ll be tough prioritizing, but I’m sure we’ll be able to come up with something.