Optimistically Cautious

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New York City: Day 3

A few observations:
  • Native New Yorkers, like any familiar with the ebb and flow of traffic in their city, are unbelievably daring when it comes to crossing the street. Even before the cars are safely on the other side of the crosswalk, they're off, and nonchalantly so. Mack had quite a bit of fun with this portion of learning to be a local, while it's safe to say I wouldn't have taken such "risks" on my own, heh.
  • The Salvation Army bell ringers must have an internal competition on who can collect the most money - their bells can be heard for what seemed like miles.
  • There was a surprising amount of scaffolding surrounding the buildings in New York. Ongoing construction and repair was something I expected in old world Europe, but for some reason I thought Manhattan would be immune.

To start off the morning, we grabbed coffee at my new favorite non-Starbucks, Dean & Deluca. Just around the corner was our first stop that day - Rockefeller Centre. For a great day view of the city, we redeemed our Explorer Pass for the Top of the Rock attraction (a must-see in the opinion of Giada de Laurentiis).

Top of the Rock

Yes, there was another cash-grabbing green-screen photo op here too (styled like the famous shot of construction workers sitting atop a girder), and like the one at the Empire State Building, we bypassed it and immediately boarded an elevator that took us to the 80th floor. It turns out there were three separate observation decks, each surrounded by glass panelling as opposed to metal bars, providing a more unobstructed view when compared with the Empire State.

Amazing view (and perfect day to take advantage of it)

Central Park

Looking down

Another viewing deck

One of my favorite photos from the trip

It was breathtaking - and though the relative warmth of the daytime, glowing sun and smaller crowd had a lot to do with it, I would still recommend the Top of the Rock to future NY visitors over the Empire State. While the visual of the Chrysler Building is partially blocked, the clear photo path to the Empire State and Central Park makes up for it somehow.

Following that, we grabbed lunch at the speediest McDonald's that we had ever been to. Seriously, Mack was handed his bag of food as soon as he finished putting change in his pocket. Dean & Deluca could learn something.

Mack enjoys a Big Mac (hee)

Next up was the NBC Studio tour, something Mack had been looking forward to for a while. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Outside NBC Studios

Before embarking on the actual studio visits, we watched a brief video of the history of NBC. Then, once through a security checkpoint (that would make it three thus far, not including the airports), the good stuff.

Conan O'Brien's studio was up first - it was tiny, with a seating capacity of only 189. To make up for the smaller number of people present at tapings, the audience is actually miked to amplify laughs (or silence, depending on the joke). Camera tricks of never shooting both Conan and his band lead Max Weinberg also help contribute to the look of a far bigger stage than in reality. The Saturday Night Live studio, on the other hand, was at least twice the size of Conan's, with double the number of lights (500). Interesting fact: the seats are of the same variety as those found in Yankee Stadium.

The tour guides we had were informative and friendly, but Mack was right when he said that the spiel sounded very rehearsed. With tours departing at least every half hour (as opposed to the twice-daily SaTC tours), it just wasn't as personal as it could have been.

In a detour that would allow us to gorge ourselves the next day without guilt, we tried to redeem our Explorer Pass for a City Lights Cruise. En route, we passed by an industrial/storage/auto shop area of New York probably not meant to be seen by tourists. After a few wrong turns, we finally reached the NY Waterways office...only to find it closed, 2 HOURS EARLY! We thought about going back later in the week to try again, but in the end, decided against possibly repeating our pedestrian nightmare. Next time, for a free (and reliable) view of the Manhattan skyline at night, I will be looking to ride the Staten Island Ferry instead.

At our wit's end at the water's edge (though I did manage to throw a nickel into the Hudson River for Anna!)

We hitched a ride on a shuttle bus back downtown, and made our way to Macy's for some shoe shopping (visitors are given an additional 11% discount). As Mack can also attest, it was absolute madness, as it happened to be the date of their "one day sale". Some may have viewed the place as shoe heaven, with generous discounts on everything in stock, but really, it was shoe hell for me, as they didn't have any of the boots I was admiring in my size. As a result, Macy's was disappointingly fruitless.

I hadn't planned on a dinner location that night (as we were supposed to be on a cruise), so we resorted to wandering towards Times Square to explore our options in that area. As tempted as I was by the idea of breadsticks at Olive Garden, we ended up at Ruby Tuesday, a casual, family-friendly chain comparable to Moxie's here in Canada. Our meal was a mixed bag - the Southwestern Spring Rolls (chicken, vegetables, beans, cheeses and cilantro wrapped in crispy tortillas) were surprisingly good, while my Gourmet Chicken Pot Pie was anything but. Resembling an upside-down, shorthand version, the chicken, vegetables, and cream sauce were spooned over a puff pastry square. Typically, the crust of the pie is the best part, but here, the pastry was bland and flavourless. The mandatory 18% gratuity (or, in their words, a "convenience charge") was hard to swallow, though I will admit that our server (and what must have been his shadow-in-training) was attentive, and did an excellent job of cleaning up nearby tables, not only wiping down the booths but sweeping up those hard-to-reach corners.

Southwestern Spring Rolls

Mack's Bacon Cheddar Burger

Gourmet Chicken Pot Pie

On our way back to the hotel, we walked through Bryant Park and briefly considered joining the line for free skating, but were deterred by the number of people ahead of us.

The Pond at night

Christmas tree at Bryant Park

Our final sight to see that night was the Rockefeller Tree, which Mack got some great shots of. As a bonus, we were also treated to a light show on the side of the Saks Fifth Avenue building.

The Rockefeller Tree by night


Saks light (and music) show

After an exhausting day for our feet, we called it a night. Wednesday was to be Wicked, followed by more culinary adventures than should be allowed in one evening.

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