Optimistically Cautious

Monday, December 17, 2007

New York City: Day 2

To start off day 2, we snapped a few photos on the fourteen floor of our hotel, then made our way to the NBC Experience Store (in Rockefeller Centre) to pick up our Explorer Passes, something we purchased prior to our arrival in the city. While my main rationale behind buying the passes was to save money (5 attractions would end up costing less than $20 each), I'm not sure I would do it again; in the end, we only ended up redeeming our cards for four attractions, and it seemed to restrict our treks in a negative way.

Mack on the Pod's rooftop patio

The Rockefeller Tree by day

A Zamboni cleans the rink at Rockefeller Centre...again

In any case, once that errand was complete, we went hunting for coffee to accompany the bagel I picked up at our neighbourhood Pax (where the addition of butter to a bagel costs 15cents). Spotting a Dean & Deluca coffee shop just across the street, we joined a very long line to give their house blend a try. It was quite good, actually, and their second balcony was excellent for people watching. But in terms of service efficiency, there was much to be desired, with a dire need for more tills and division of labour between the baristas.

Plain buttered bagel from Pax


We're not in Starbucks anymore...

View from the balcony

Emboldened by caffeine, we walked to Fifth Avenue to redeem our Explorer Pass for our first planned activity - the Sex and the City tour that Mack has been excited about for weeks (heh). On our way there, we passed by the main Humanities branch of the New York City Public Library (where I felt the need to take pictures for Bettina's sake :), as well as the famous window displays of Bergdorf Goodman and Saks. The latter's were actually staffed by two people and lined with crowd dividers - Saks definitely means business. The stores are, of course, nice, filled with the fuss that you'd expect, but the merchandise sold within were way out of my league, and I felt out of place (as I did in Selfridges in London).

With one of the lions in front of the library

A hallway (more museum than library, the hallowed marble halls seemed more fit for Parliament than a place of open learning. If anything, however, this is the type of place I would associate with the birthplace of Humanities 101.)

They have books, too!

A window at Bergdorf's

The windows (and line ups) at Saks

At the SaTC ticket office, located in a fairly non-descript building near the Empire State, we were greeted by quite an informal operation. As opposed to a traditional reception, we opened the door to find a director's chair full of paper and a woman who looked surprised that anyone would stumble upon her work space. For a pretty well-known and successful tour (having been featured in many of the major publications in the country), we were expecting something slightly more organized.

Empire State Building

Killing time before our 3pm tour, we stopped by the world's largest store - Macy's. It was sheer madness inside, though really, not as crazy as it would be on the occasion of their "one day sale" later on in the week. It really reminded me why I typically start Christmas shopping in September.

Approaching Macy's

Inside Macy's

We had lunch at a different Pax, a kind of place with fresh deli offerings that Mack wished Edmonton had more of. Mack picked up a wrap while I decided to give their salad bar a try. I think it would take me a while to get used to how fast you need to move in New York - with service personnel barking out questions in order to get through customers as quickly as possible. In any case, in addition to a base of romaine lettuce ($2.95), I added cherry tomatoes (50cents), grilled chicken ($2), and a low-fat vinaigrette. The salad was very filling and definitely worth my money.

Turkey BLT

Customizable Salad

Heading back towards Fifth Avenue, we walked through Bryant Park, another one of those marvels of Manhattan - a greenspace in the midst of looming, claustrophobic skyscrapers. In addition to a free(!) skating rink (brought to you by CitiBank), there was a small holiday market, with vendors selling unique gift items. Bryant Park turned out to be one of my favorite places in New York that we were able to see.

A very random Ontario, Canada tourism snowglobe (since when can you snowboard in Ontario?)


The Pond (just so picturesque, no?)

Just before meeting up with our tour group, we stopped by FAO Schwartz. Chock full of children (much like the rest of Manhattan - especially school groups on field trips), the toy store would have captivated me at a younger age. The recently released film The Golden Compass seemed to have developed numerous deals with local companies. FAO for one was filled with posters and movie merchandise, and even had costumes used in the film on display (the Top of the Rock Observation Deck even included a trailer for viewing before going up the elevator).

With a friendly FAO door greeter

Golden Compass display

With Harry, Hermione, Ron and Hagrid (similar to a display in London's Legoland)

"DarthMaq", as he was calling himself

Loading up the buses for our SaTC tour was a bit of a gong show, as there were two full coach loads of people ready to go, but we eventually got up and on and were introduced to our very energetic, enthusiastic tour guide. Stephanie was what Mack labelled a "nerd", as she could quote the show with the best of them, but I appreciated what was a very obvious appreciation for Sex and the City.

Mack and I before the tour

The bus departed from a key location used at the end of Season 2 - the Plaza Hotel where Carrie bids adieu to her Hubble. It was one of the more memorable visuals, as most things they pointed out were either non-descript exteriors (Samantha's front door in the Meat Packing District) or forgettable interiors (Sushi Samba, Takishimaya, ABC Home).

The stops were the definite highlight (though I probably could have done without The Pleasure Chest - location of Charlotte's Rabbit purchase), and it was too cool to take a picture on Carrie's apartment stoop (the street was as quiet and as serene as one would expect from the show).

The Pleasure Chest

Free souvenirs (the fine print: "Only to be used as paint stir sticks")

The stoop! The stoop!

The block on which the stoop sits

After the photo, we were given the opportunity to wander (stores on the block included James Perse, Ralph Lauren, and Marc by Marc Jacobs), but we elected to go to Magnolia Bakery to pick up non-cupcakes, as we were being provided with one each on the tour bus. There was actually a line up around the store, and a door person who controlled traffic into the very small space, only allowing individuals to replace those who had just left. Mack chose a double chocolate brownie while I decided to give their apple crumble a whirl (Mack's brownie was excellent - soft, chewy, but not too sweet, while the crumble was a ho-hum dessert).

Waiting outside Magnolia

Our cupcakes from Magnolia (definitely provided a sugar high)

Playground where Miranda trips just before meeting Steve's Debbie

Back on the bus for more show clips and bad sex puns (e.g. "We're all getting off...the bus"), we drove to Scout, or, as it is known in reality, Onieal's Speakeasy. The Cosmo they gave us was small, and not worth the supposed cheap price of $8, but when in Rome, right?

At Onieal's

The most hilarious moment of the tour occurred when we drove past the storefront that was used as Aidan's furniture showroom. Now being remodelled for an architectural firm, the new owner held up a sign in the window as we drove by. It read "Still (heart) Carrie" on the front, and on the back, "Big is small". It was too funny that the man would get up in the middle of his work day just to make a bus full of women laugh. Wait a minute...

The tour bus dropped us off at Grand Central Station, where we were treated to another "like in the movies" locations. With the holiday light show in the main terminal, it was one of the coolest free sights we had seen so far. Similar to Bryant Park, Grand Central offered its own holiday market, which we walked around as well. There as so many alternatives to your run of the mill shopping mall that it boggles the mind!

Just outside of Grand Central

Light show

Terminal at Grand Central

Holiday market

We decided to have dinner at the Grand Central dining concourse. Two Boots was a pizza vendor that I had read about, and their slices did not disappoint. The thin crust was baked with a sprinkling of corn meal, resulting in a light but filling portion.

Pizza from Two Boots

We then took the subway to the Empire State Building. Not an option in our Explorer Pass, we decided we couldn't skip out on it, and relegating the Top of the Rock view for the daytime, we decided to plan for the Empire State after nightfall. Numerous start-stops later (thankfully there was no real need for all of those rope lines), we were on the 86th floor deck, complete with a bitter wind chill I thought was confined to Edmonton winters. The view was pretty, but besides the recognizable Chrysler Building, it could have been taken from any other major city.

At the Empire State Building

Too many ropes!


View part deux


Our last stop of the evening was Times Square. One of Mack's favorite places in the city, it was all flashy lights, blinking advertisements, and was accompanied by the general excitement part and parcel of such an assault on the visual sense. As iconic as the Square is, I must say I much prefer the regal elegance of the Fifth Avenue promenade instead. Still, no visit to New York is complete without a trip to the Square.

Mack at Times Square

At Times Square

One of the very recognizable columns

We took some time to visit a few stores (we were clearly in the wrong part of town the night before; most merchants in this area shut down at midnight or later), including the massive Toys 'R Us, complete with an operational Ferris wheel, a Virgin Megastore, and the M & M's World. For those interested in the unusual, I also toured the Charmin promotional bathroom, a marketing gimmick I had read about a few weeks ago. Beyond surreal, the escalator up revealed a sight that must have been dreamed up by a PR firm on hallucinogenics: an usher with an airhorn, a dancing cheerleader, a snow facade for pictures, and an odd tissue-scented air. Only in New York.

Ferris wheel at the Toys 'R Us

Looking down at the M & M's World

In the Charmin Bathroom (interestingly enough, Mack received the most comments for these pictures posted on Flickr)

We called it a night (Mack will tell you that I would quickly get accustomed to the nightly USA marathons of Law & Order: SVU), and hoped the next day would be just as fulfilling.

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