RSSArchive for December, 2007

New York: Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz’s Delicatessen had always been high on my list as a place I must visit. Katz’s Deli has always been considered NYC’s best’est deli. It is a Jewish kosher style deli and lies smack in the middle of the Lower East Side (which had been considered as the center of the Jewish culture in NYC). It’s amazing knowing Katz’s had been here for the last 120 years!

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Katz’s Deli has a really strange way of operating their deli. Everyone who goes into Katz’s are given this small stub of paper. Be warned … don’t lose it or they will charge you something like $50 or something like that if you leave without one!

You see they mark what you have purchased on this stub and then you pay with this stub when you leave the deli.

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It took me a while to get used to the system. First, you have a choice of waited on the table or you line up to get your sandwich from the cutter. Only the table by the wall are waited on while the rest of the tables are self served … weird. I can’t figure why the difference.

The entire deli is so busy and unbelievably noisy.

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When you think of Katz’s Deli, many of you will probably remember the Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan movie called “When Harry Met Sally”. It is one of the most funniest movies of all time. It is in Katz’s that they have the infamous scene where Meg Ryan faked “it”. Check this youtube out:

Right in the middle of the dining area is that sign that shows the table where Harry and Sally sat. That is the most popular table in Katz’s without a doubt. Now you know what the sign means what it says “Hope You Had What She Had”.

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Everyone gets a plate full of pickles. There are two types. I love the “normal” cold crunchy ones but the other one is way too sour for me. I finished off the “normal” ones but left the sour ones half eaten. Nice … very nice.

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I am not sure what Sally had but I ordered what I think is the best that Katz’s Deli has. Almost every table has at least one of these … Katz’s Pastrami.

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Look at that … it’s wickedly delicious, don’t you think? I had never had such great juicy pastrami sandwich. It was hand carved and served hot. Oh … be warned … there are signs that warn you NEVER to ask for mayo. I dared not find out … I did not ask.

I guess it’s because their sandwiches was great just as it was … no condiments needed. It came with really thin slices of bread. It certainly was messy eating this as the meat pieces keeps falling out all over the place. I had a great time and my hands were all greasy that I had to wash them in soap in the washroom.

Oh … it’s not cheap for a sandwich … $14.45. It was worth every penny though.

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For the drinks, I ordered a very New York beverage … the Egg Cream. I had absolutely no idea what Egg Creams are except that I read about it. Apparently there are two choices … chocolate or vanilla. I chosed vanilla.

Egg Cream is made of milk and sletzer (soda). Despite the name, it has no eggs nor cream. I am not sure why they called it egg cream though. I can’t quite make out the taste … it is creamy and fizzy … and I love it.

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There is one and only one Katz’s Deli. It’s an experience eating there. When you are in NYC and if there is only one place you want to visit for a meal, I totally recommend Katz’s Deli.

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New York: Circle Line Cruise

The morning is dominated by this cruise. For once, I so look forward to a few hours of sitting and enjoying the sights. The CityPass I had, included a 2 hr Manhattan Island Cruise.

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So, I got there at shortly before 10AM. It was later I found out that the next 2 hr cruise will start only at 11AM. That is an hour wait and where the jetty is, there is nothing around interesting to burn the hour. So, I paid $4.50 and upgraded to a 3 hr cruise which leaves immediately.

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The cruise goes around the Manhattan Island counter clock wise starting from the 42nd Street pier. Here are some of the more interesting pictures I took during the cruise. First there is a four level golf driving range, I had seen this in TV or movies before but not in real life. I find it kind of strange that New Yorkers would take up golf since I don’t think there are any golf courses nearby … certainly not on Manhattan.

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On the cruise, there are live narations. I am amazed at this guy who kept on talking for 3 straight hours. Anyway, when we came to this pier, he did mention something about Titanic berthed here. I must have heard it wrongly because as far as I know the Titanic’s maiden voyage is from Europe (England?) to new York. The Titanic never made it to the US. You know what this pier is about? New Yorkers?

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Some of the best thing in New York are free. I heard that the Staten Ferry is free and is the best way to see the New York Harbour.

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We came near the Ellis Island. This is THE port of entry for most immigrants to the US from 1890s to 1950s. About 70% of all immigrants to the US landed here and during the period it was opened, it processed about 12 million people. You do the math, with the current population of 300 million, I am guessing that perhaps at least 10%-20% of the current population are related to someone who had immigrated to the US through this place. It is now a museum. I did not go there this time … someday I will.

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The Statue of Liberty is what got everyone excited. Everyone got off their seats and scrambled to one side of the boat … I was thinking that it’s kind of dangerous. No trip to New York is ever complete without a visit to The Lady Liberty … I did not visit it this time. At least I was quite near it.

To a lot of new immigrants to the US, the Statue of Liberty is their first glimpse of their new home. Nothing else is more iconic of the US than the Statue of Liberty.

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This view is from Lower Manhattan. You might notice that it is Lower Manhattan from the three towers of the World Financial Center (the ones with the round, square and pyramid top). In between them you could see all the way to the Empire State Building in midtown.

Before 9-11, you cannot see the Empire State Building … because the giant Twin Towers would have obscured this view.

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Further down near the north side of the east river is this house standing amidst all the tall buildings around. Such a house would not have been possible because NYC is so built up. I was told that this is the residence of the Mayor of New York. Can anyone confirm?

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The view of the United Nations complex is much more beautiful from the river. If you click on the picture below, you will see that there are three red brick buildings facing the UN. If you look carefully, you will see that the two right most buildings, the ones directly facing the UN Complex had no windows. Apparently this is deliberately done because they don’t want the residents of the two blocks snooping on the UN complex. The only windows that you see, as I am told, is from the stairwells.

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The Brooklyn Bridge seems so old fashion but during its day it was a state of the art bridge. I will blog more about it later on. It is from this angle that one can take the best pictures of Lower Manhattan.

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OK, here is the reason why I did not attempt to go to the Statue of Liberty. It’s kind of hard to see the lines but the white tents are just the security checks. On a busy weekend, it will take about 3 hours to get on the ferry to Liberty Island.

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Oh, this one is for Suanne … Martha Stewart’s office, the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, is located on the 9th floor of this large building. Looks like it took up an entire city block! Legend has it that Martha Stewart moves around the office in a golf cart.

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So, there it is … my 3 hour cruise. It was really interesting … you should go on this cruise too.

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New York: Breakfast at the Empire Diner

Just a couple of days left in my trip. If there is a theme to the day, it would perhaps be “water” — have planned for a cruise around Manhattan and then a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. This will be a welcome change of pace for me because there will be less walking!

As usual, I started off the day early. Breakfast is at the Empire Diner which, again, was featured in my guidebook as a great place for breakfast. This place is opened 24 hrs and is located in 210 10th Ave. This location works great too as it is just blocks away from the place where I am going to that cruise.

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This place is unique in that it is an art deco beauty faithfully refurbished as a classic 1920s American Diner. They have won several awards, including Best Diner in 2006.

I guess it must have been way too early for people to be here. There are only two other tables taken up — both are tourists. I think that this is very much a touristy place since it is featured in travel books and that there are not many offices around the area.

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Started off with coffee. It was great. They provided frothed and hot milk on a separate metal mug — never seen people doing that before. I think it is a great idea.

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They also gave me a small cup of marmalade (I think). I have no idea why because I did not order a toast.

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I made up my order and went for a bit of what is not very common in a breakfast platter and a bit of what I like most (eggs over easy).

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I like the English muffins which is toasted and buttered. I think I figured out why such muffins looks and tastes better than, say, sliced bread. It’s the uneven texture. I really think that bread which has an uneven texture (i.e. broken up, not sliced) holds the spread better. If they had perfectly sliced the muffin cleanly across with a knife, it would not have been as appealing. LOL!

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The cottage fries was crispy but the sausage was simply too much for me. I guess I am not a big breakfast eater.

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The total came up to $13, tips included.

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New York: Silvia’s in Harlem

My guidebook so recommend Silvia’s that they actually have two pictures of Silvia’s in the book. The guidebook said that Silvia’s is a very well known soul food restaurant and is perhaps the best there is in New York. Among their customers include Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Magic Johnson … so this place gotta to be good.

The only problem to me is that it is located in Harlem. I have always heard that a visitor to New York should not venture to Harlem especially at night. But being a risk taker that I am, I went anyway … at night, for dinner. OK, New Yorkers … tell me … was I foolhardy to go to Harlem at night or is it all in my mind.

Getting off the 125th Street subway station, I could immediately see that I am in a part of NYC that is so different from Manhattan. Here I am a very visible Asian guy right smack in the middle of the black community. I sure stuck out like a sire thumb. :-)

I knew already where I was going. Silvia’s is just 1 block north of the subway station. I got to the street level, got my bearings and just walk as fast as I can. Finding Silvia’s is easy because they are the brightest along quite a dark stretch of street. In case you want to know the address, it is on 328 Lenox Ave.

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Going into the restaurant, it was no different. I am the only non-black in the restaurant. But the service was excellent and very very courteous. I am beginning to enjoy myself in this unique place. I remembered that the place was noisy … loud talking, laughing and very very loud music … basically, people here are all having a great time.

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I asked for some real authentic beer of theirs … some really New Yorky type. They recommended the Sugar Hill Brown Ale and is brewed by the Harlem Brewing Company. Well, I figure that for a beer named after a neighborhood in Harlem (Sugar Hill), I can’t get more authentic than that. I like the slight balanced sweetness and aroma.

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They have a small menu — very simple choices. I was not particularly impressed with the type-written menu but then who really cares right? It’s the food that matters. There are so many I wanted to order.

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I started off with bread … corn bread, I think. It was served warm and soft … and crumbly. Made a mess of my table with all the pieces of crumbs. It was really great with soft corn oil and whipped spread.

They asked me if I wanted more … how could one resist? I had more.

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I ordered their famous BBQ Ribs. The pork ribs are huge and are BBQ’d in a rich, sweetened sauce. The four ribs are all BBQ’d to crisp … very nice. Wished they offered me second helpings!

This came with a choice of two sides. I thought, what is soul food without collard green? Not that I love collard green, it’s just that it’s so … soulish.

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The second sides I had was the okra and tomato gumbo. It’s such a small bowl of it … wished there were more.

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There was on the table Silvia’s very own Hot and Sassy Sauce. This one I had was their hottest … called the Triple Strength. It was OK … not really hot coming from where I came from.

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I really enjoyed myself despite my fear of Harlem. I scooted off to the Subway once I got out of the restaurant. Tell me again … is it just me or is Harlem really that dangerous a place at night.

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New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History

It rained cats and dogs the entire day that one Saturday. So, I had a quick change of plans and decided that it’s a day to be spent indoors … at the museums. For the entire day, it was spent at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History.

Many of the museums in New York are located along what is known as the Museum Mile which runs along 5th Ave by Central Park. Along this stretch are ten museums .

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as the “Mets” is not the same as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Mets is actually one of the most influential art museum in the world along with the ranks of the Lovre in Paris. It is the home of numerous important art pieces too.

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Being a Saturday, it was very crowded. Looks like a lot of people had the same plan as I did too … spending the day at the museums. I first headed off to the cloak room. There was a long line which took me about 10 minutes before I could hand off my bag and jacket to them. All I needed for the day was my camera.

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Got myself the all important audio guide, a map of the museum and I am all set. Checking the floor plan, it appears that there is no way I could cover everything as I also wanted to visit the other museum too in the afternoon. They have an extensive collection and are located on two floors. I decided to cover the several Asian Art sections and European Paintings, and leave what ever time I had roaming the place until it’s time head off to the Natural History Museum.

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After my visit to Europe earlier this year when I had a chance to visit the Lovre and the Rijksmuseum, I had gathered quite a bit of knowledge about European Art. There was quite an extensive collection of Rembrandts here.

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The painting below by van Gogh is called Mother Roulin And Her Baby. This one was one of two dozen paintings that van Gogh had done of the Roulin family who had encouraged and welcomed Vincent during his years on south of France when he started to exhibit troubleness, isolation and loneliness. This series of painting of the Roulins are some of the best loved works of van Gogh.

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It is in New York that I came across Picasso more and learned about his works.

A cornerstone of the Picasso collection in the Mets is this one of Getrude Stein. Getrude Stein was an American writer who had been famous for her works in the promotion of modern literature and art. In the early 20th century, Getrude responded with enthusiasm the new revolution in art, modern art. When the painting was made, Picasso was just 24 and had not had anyone posed for him for a portrait before. At the end, he made Getrude Stein sit through 90 sittings and still he did not complete the painting. When he finally completed it … well, Getrude did NOT like the painting.

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Picasso went thru several changes of styles over the years as a painter. Perhaps the most striking of which is the periods which is referred to as cubism and then later on surrealism. The painting below called “Girl Reading at a Table” is one such painting.

Although a married man, Picasso had quite a few lovers and mistresses in his life. When Picasso was almost 50 years old, he met a 17-year old French schoolgirl who became his mistress. Her name was Marie-Therese Walter and as it turned out that their relationship was the happiest among others. Legend had it that Picasso approached her and told her “Madam, you have a very beautiful face. Can I paint you?” … and he ended painting the one below!

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I also spent some time in the Greek and Roman Art section.

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My stomach was grumbling and I then went down to the cafeteria downstairs. It was quite a good one, I must say … unlike all the other ones I have been to museums around the world. Here they have real food … not just biscotti and coffee!

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I enjoyed the ancient Chinese Art section immensely. This is part of the extensive collection of Asian Arts and the collection at the Mets is considered as the largest Asian Arts collection on the west. I am particularly fascinated with the collection from the 5th century.

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The Asian collection included Japanese and Korean Art. That I can relate to somewhat. It’s the collection from the South and South-east Asian collection that I really do not spend a lot of time on. South Asian (India, Pakistan, Tibet) art is a lot dominated by sculptures of religious significance.

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On the Egyptian collection, the centerpiece is the complete re-assembled Temple of Dendur. It is a beautiful display for its surrounding … a reflecting pool and a wall of windows looking out to Central Park.

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I lost track of time and before I know it I had spent 2 hours more than I planned to at the Mets. I had walk across the Central Park to get to the Museum of Natural History. This was my first time seeing for myself how Central Park is like. It was well maintained. Today being a rainy day, there were not many people.

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Actually, I was rather upset getting to this museum later than I intended. Between the two museums, I would have loved natural history more. To add to the disappointment, the museum closed 2 hours earlier than normal because they have a function planned for the evening. What a bummer … I only had 1.5 hours left!

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I first went for a omni theater show at the planetarium. It was a waste of time actually … I only went in because I entered through the side entrance and they provide free omni theater tickets for CityPass holders.

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It was pretty rushed. At the end I only managed to cover a section of the Human Origin section. It was a fabulous museum, although some of the exhibits are visibly dated. I’ll come back and make sure I spend good time here … some day.

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New York: Congee Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown

There were really nothing to see in Chinatown really. On the main road, there were rows and rows of stalls and shops selling the same kind of stuff you normally get in Chinatowns all over the world … knock-off watches, clothings, perfumes and what nots.

I went around to look for Little Italy and true to what I had read, Little Italy is nothing more than a short street of some Italian restaurants. The Chinatown had encroached into Little Italy so much that if I did not already know I was there, I would never had known this is Little Italy.

It was beginning to rain heavily … so heavy that I did not take out my camera to take any pictures while there. Since it was quite late already and the only thing I had since morning is a bagel and a giant pretzel, I thought it’s time for some food.

It was in Bowery Street that I saw what really appealed to me in this cold rainy weather … congee. The restaurant I went into was just simply called the Congee Chinese Restaurant.

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They have a really extensive menu. I find that the Chinese restaurants in the US (for example San Francisco, New York) have bigger menus than what we have in Vancouver. It had also a wider variety of menu items.

In this restaurant, their congee menu is quite extensive … and have quite a few unique types that you normally don’t find else where. I ordered the Abalone and Frog Porridge.

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The porridge is served boiling hot in a hot pot. With a few dashes of pepper and soya sauce, this pot of congee was just what I needed. Besides warming me up, I had not had real chinese food for the past few days. Moreover, my feet is killing me. I stayed in the restaurant for over an hour and took my time reading and planning for my trip the next day.

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New York: The NYSE and Federal House

After the visit to the WTC, I headed next to the direction of the NYSE. Lower Manhattan is really small and compact. Seems to me like everything is about 5 minutes walk from one place to another.

I wanted to check out the Federal Reserve Bank. It is here that a quarter of the world’s known gold bullion is stored deep inside this building. There are 10s of billions of dollars worth of gold bar stored 5 stories underground. The gold here are mostly owned by governments and international organizations around the world. As countries made payments to each other, gold bars could simply be wheeled from one country’s vault to the next. This is not the only Reserve Banks in the US … this is one of twelve but this is the biggest of all.

My guide book says that there is a exhibition of “The History of Money” and is opened for visitors but I just could not find the entrance. Every door seems to be heavily locked … no opened welcoming doors. I am guessing that they do not open for visitors anymore after 9-11. Anyone could confirm this?

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Security around the New York Stock Exchange is really tight. All around the block, there are barricades designed in the form of street art. Also, there are not only policemen but there are heavily armed SWAT team patrolling the place. They are armed to their teeth. I wanted to take a picture of them but had second thoughts!

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Right in front NYSE is the Federal House, where the bronze statue of George Washington looks on down Wall Street.

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It is on these steps of the Federal House that George Washington took his oath as the first President of the United States in 1789. I had once assumed that George Washington would have taken his oath in Washington DC. But I later found out that it was not until 1800 that Washington DC is established as the permanent capital of the country. Sixteen other locations and cities were considered as the US capital before 1800.

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I guess the significance of the Federal House had diminished over the years. There are lots of tourists teeming around Wall Street but only a handful of people actually ventured up the steps to go into the Federal House. There was not a lot of things to see anyway here. I just took 15 minutes looking over the exhibits.

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I so dearly wanted to go into the NYSE … you know, seeing with my own eyes what the famed Trading Floor of the NYSE is really like. My guidebook did say that there is a public viewing gallery but the entrances are all barricaded and heavy security checks every person that goes in and out of the building. I understand why the security post 9-11. If the NYSE is taken out, the gargantuan economy of the US will probably grind to a halt.

But like I said … there were lots of tourists and the streets around here have this carnival atmosphere. And that is despite the presence of a SWAT team.

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Interestingly enough, there were actually a lot of chairs and tables setup on the street just in front of the NYSE. So, I decided to go get myself a NYC type snack. There are a lot of street carts on many street corners selling Giant Pretzels all over the city. It was pretty expensive to me ($2) but I think it’s because I got it right smack in the middle of a tourist district.

I had one that had lots of coarse salt on it. Yucks … too much salt! I wiped off all the salt and finished off the giant pretzel. Was it good? No … not at all.

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Then I went around searching for the Charging Bull sculpture. It took me a while because I would have thought that it is just around Wall Street. I finally found it on the Bowling Green park. This bull is by itself a tourist destination. It was pretty hard to get a good shot of it because there were lots of people waiting to pose in front of the bull.

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For some reason, people likes to rub bronze sculptures. You know where the favorite parts everyone rubs … the head for obvious reason. I realize that the balls were shinier than all other parts!

One favorite pose had people pull their jackets over their heads and then sticking it into the butt of the bull.

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I headed to Chinatown and Little Italy next …

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New York: The World Trade Center

So … where were you on 9-11 when the World Trade Center was attacked?

For me I remember that morning well. When I switched on the TV in the morning, the first plane had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was all surreal. At the time, all the report was saying is that a small plane hit the tower … and then everyone saw it … a second plane coming in from the south and hit the other building. I still went to work that morning, I thought I had to because my company was only days from cutting over to production a $30 million project. Before I left home, one tower came down. Driving to work, I heard on the radio that the second tower came down too. Nothing much happened at work that day even though we’re in a different country and thousands of miles away. It’s the day the world stopped. This is just my little account of the event.

In New York, there are over 8 million people. I know everyone of them has something to share of that day when it happened, if you ask them. It happened to them and their city. The 9-11 event will stay with them for the rest of their life.

The first plane screamed just over the light brown building below before crashing into the North Tower. Everyone knows that both 1 WTC and 2 WTC collapsed but seven hours later 7 WTC (48 stories high) too collapsed from the damage and fire. When I was in NYC, they had completely rebuilt the 7 WTC building (the glass tower on the right).

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I went very early to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. If there is one thing I wanted to do for the day, I wanted to visit the WTC site. I was determined to get myself signed up for the walking tour around the perimeter of the site of the Freedom Tower. It costs $10 for the entrance to the exhibits and another $10 for the walking tour. I believe that the CityPass covers entrance to the Visitor Center because I was only charged $10 when they found that I had a CityPass with me.

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The visitor center was well organized into several galleries. The first gallery started off with showing us how life had been in the Twin Towers back then. How it was a little city on its own … how people’s life centered around the towers. It was not just a complex of office buildings but a real community just like your own neighborhood.

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The next gallery shows the entire event on that day it happened. I spent a lot of time here, reading and listening to the sounds of the radio communication and news broadcasts.

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Then the gallery moved on to describing the aftermath and the recovery effort. Below is the remains of a window of one of the planes. Here, we can really see and feel what the people went through. I wondered who sat by this particular window and what went thru his/her mind. I also saw a firefighter’s jacket that was ripped in half from the falling debris.

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On that day, 3000 people were murdered. They were just normal people … people like you and I.

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I also spent a lot of time going over the personal notes and memorabilia of the people killed. It was moving. I don’t know when the note below was written but it came from a little child to his mom. I know that the child’s mum must have been the center of his/her life.

There were thousands of such memorabilia …

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I wished I had more time at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. I spent about 45 minutes at the galleries before the walking tour starts. The walking tour was led by two volunteers. One of them was living (and still is) in a small apartment block on the south side to the Twin Towers. She was trapped in her apartment when the WTC came down but survived getting out. It was mesmerizing listening to her account on that day. How it was a quiet morning for her … going to the market around the block … coming home … and her world changed after that.

I did notice that everyone who attended were really quiet … just absorbing and reflecting on the events of the day as it was described … some had misty eyes. It was moving for me too.

The other guide was a teacher just a couple of blocks away from the WTC. Her husband, well, was a firefighter in Brooklyn. She told us that when she heard about the attacks, she knew her husband will be called to the WTC … every firefighter all around NYC was called. She did not get the chance to speak to her husband on the phone. Her husband was one of those who did not survive the collapse. Even after so many years, her voice choked when she told us her account of events.

I wished everyone in the world gets to see and hear of what happened on that day … yes, everyone … everyone including the people who committed that hate-filled act. Through out the tour, the focus was all on what the people went through and how they rebuild back their lives. There was not a single word of retribution, anger or revenge. That to me takes tremendous courage and strength to do on the part of New Yorkers.

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The big hole is being filled up very fast. I remember seeing on the TV the long wide ramp that led into this unbelievably deep and large hole that used to hold the basement of the WTC.

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We were told that by the end of this year, the building of the Freedom Tower will reach the street level. The Freedom Tower will be taller than the Twin Towers when it is completed at 1776 feet — 1776 being the year of the US Independence. The building will be completed in early 2011. I would love to visit the Freedom Tower one day when it is completed.

They recovered a fragment of a memorial of an earlier terror attack on the WTC . The WTC’s basement was car bombed about a decade earlier. Although the bomb ripped through 5 floors of car parks (and killing several people), the building stood. Anyway, they are figuring out how they will be using the small recovered fragment of the memorial to be part of the new memorial.

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Perhaps the most moving memorial erected today is the one put up in the World Financial Center across the street from the WTC by American Express. The World Financial Center houses the HQ of some of the largest corporations including Amex, Merrill Lynch, Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal.

Everyone on the AMEX headquarters working on the World Financial Center survived the attack. However, AMEX also maintain a small office of nine staff on the WTC to more closely support their customers. Everyone of the AMEX employees on the WTC did not survive the attack. So, AMEX built a memorial to everyone of the employees. It was called something like “pool of the eternal teardrop” and is built in the lobby of the building. From the high ceiling, there are nine drops of tears constantly hitting the poll below. And on the sides of the pool were the names of each of the employees and a few words of description of them.

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After the walking tour, I went over to the east side of the ground zero site to this little church that was facing the WTC. This was where the firefighters call it home for sometime.

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Finally … from one great city to another. The city of London presented this bell to the people of New York. I am sure this will find a permanent home one day at the Freedom Tower.

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I actually went away from this visit seeing a very human side of New York. I had always thought of NYC being impersonal and cold. No, not anymore. I know the events on 9-11 had made New York and it’s people stronger then ever before.

I heart New York.

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