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New York: Going Home to Vancouver

I am not going to ask you guys what you thought of our series of our summer vacation. I am afraid … I am afraid some of you will say this went on and on for too long. :-)

So we finally left New York for Vancouver after 2 fun filled weeks traveling through Washington, Philadelphia, Lancaster and Manhattan. I know Suanne enjoyed it a lot especially when it is just the two of us without the boys. In many ways, we are glad to finally heading home. Two weeks is just about right and we were beginning to start missing the boys. For me, I felt recharged and coming away having seen and done a lot of stuff I had always wanted to do … he he he … and a lot of lines checked off from my “Been There, Done That” list.

The flight back were uneventful. There were plenty of seats available and so there were no risk of us not getting on board. Tiredness set in the moment we got on the flight. It was like we were running on fumes the past few days and our body finally gave in!

BTW, the Continental breakfast was pretty good. For sure you cannot compare inflight breakfast with what you get in restaurants but for airline food, it was pretty palatable and tastes quite good too. The fruit was freshly cut, the muffin was moist and I like the Omelet particularly … served warm.

As always I had the Bloody Mary Mix. I just love this.

We were glad to finally see the familiar landmarks. You know, I always enjoyed it when the plane lands from the east. Metro Vancouver looks quite different from the air. And it is a very beautiful sight especially looking at the North Shore Mountains.

Can any of you guess what bridge it is above?

I’ve been to many airports and I really think that Vancouver has one of the most beautiful airports in North America. It is not a super busy airport and I like it that way. Every time I passes this passage above, I can imagine what a first time tourist coming to Vancouver would think — Beautiful.

OK, I hope you all find this series interesting. I know the series is looooong and teeeeedious. That is why in this mini-series of New York, I halfed your pain by posting twice a day. :-) I need to warn you though … I have in the plan to embark on another travel series … the next one is Chicago … the Windy City!

Anyway, here is the summary link to our summer vacation:

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New York: H&H Bagels

So we know that bagels from New York are the second best in the world (which BTW the best bagels are Canadians, from Montreal). Where then can you find New York bagels?

We did some research and found that the name H&H came up pretty often as the best. So, we decided to go seek out the bagels from H&H.

When we were at the American Museum of Natural History, we asked for the direction with the address to H&H at the info desk. They had no idea where the address was but when we told the lady we wanted to go to H&H, her eyes brightened up and said why didn’t we say so. Obviously she knows the place and that sort of confirms that H&H is a local fav.

See the tag line … H&H Bagels … Like no other bagels in the world.

It is all take away … no tables, no chairs. And they sell bagels and bagels only. I see some people even buy them by the dozens.

There was no where to eat so, we cross the road to the center median and ate there … right in the middle of the road! We felt kind of weird but I guess this is New York.

Lest I give you wrong info, I admit I can’t even remember what it is we bought. Anyone can help name the one above and the one below?

Was the bagels good? You bet it was! They were so nice it could be eaten just like that. Maybe, just maybe, they might have the best bagels in the world.

H & H Bagels on Urbanspoon

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New York: American Museum of Natural History

We had another early start on the 2nd last day of our 2 week vacation. The highlight of the day was going to the museum, one that I sort of missed the last time I was in NYC.

We had breakfast in heavens knows where! There are so many of these types of eating places in NYC and they all sort of look alike … with a long counter and a number of cooks. And quite the same service too … very rushed and impatient!

So, this time, instead of ordering from the counter, we had something from their buffet spread which they charges by weight. Suanne and I just needed good old Chinese style carbs — we missed rice and noodles!

Then it was off to the American Museum of Natural History. In all my travels, I find that this one in New York is the best of the best museum of natural history. Although some of the exhibits are obviously dated, it is very well presented.

Being of Chinese descent but never been educated in the Chinese language and history, Suanne and I had special interest in the exhibits of the Chinese culture.

We spent quite a lot of time poring over this simple diagram that depicts the Chinese family structure. This is my opinion of the Chinese. The Chinese culture are centered on the family — the society, the government, etc are all secondary to the family. You might think this insignificant but the way the Chinese name is written tells a lot. For instance, in the Western culture, the structure of a person’s name is Given-Name Family-Name (i.e. John Smith, where Smith is the family name). The Chinese name is commonly written as Family-Name Generation-name Given-name. Let’s take a famous Chinese name as an example … Mao Ze Dong. Mao is the family name, Ze is the generation name and Dong is the given name. In China, his name is, well, Mao Ze Dong but if he migrates to Canada, his name will like change to Ze Dong Mao. Am I confusing you?

Also, did you know that the Chinese language has separate words for older brother, younger brother, older sister and younger sister. There is no such words as brother or sister. OK, enough of this boring stuff.

Oh BTW, Chinese like me, educated in English and does not know Chinese, are often called a Banana … anyone can tell me why? LOL!

I am also interested in ancient Chinese dynastic history. I can never quite remember all the details of the dozen or so dynasties from Ancient China to the last Qing Dynasty but randomly reading of them does tell a lot of the life of the people then. I find it amazing that there were so much records kept so meticulously back then that so much is known even to this day.

The design on the boat above is unique. I can recognize it instantly. Anyone can tell me what it is and where the boat is from? (No, it is NOT Chinese).

This exhibit above is mind boggling. I stood there for some time and just can really figure out what I am looking at … too much to see!

The giant blue whale … full sized and all … was mesmerizing.

Suanne and I enjoyed this museum and spent quite a lot of time here. Among the numerous museums in New York City, to us this is the best.

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New York: Top of the Rock Observation Deck

We had a few hours before the Broadway show starts. I wanted to show Suanne the view of the New York skyline from the Empire State Building but she did not want to because I had already been there before. Instead, we settled for the next best place … the “Top of the Rock”.

The Top of the Rock is the nickname for the top of the highest building (the GE Building) in the Rockefeller Center. The Rockefeller Center is actually a complex of 17 buildings built during the height of the 1930s Depression. The GE Building, being the tallest in the entire Rockefeller Center, is 70 stories high. It’s most famous tenant is NBC.

In the center of the Rockefeller Center is the world famous sculpture of Prometheus in front of the equally world famous skating rink.

We bought the “Rock Pass” tickets which included not only access to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck but it also included two tours: The Radio City Stage Door Tour and the NBC Studio Tour. It was quite expensive at $45 per person. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck entrance alone costs $20.

The NBC Studio Tour was interesting to say the least. If you watch NBC shows and programs, you will enjoy this very much. Since we were not allowed to take pictures during the NBC Studio Tour, I have nothing much to share with you here (sorry!). I was warned that I can take my camera along the tour but if I take any pictures inside the studios, they will have to slap me with a copyright infringement lawsuit!

And no … we did not bump into any stars during the tour. I was hoping to bump onto Conan O’Brien during the visit to his stage and crack a joke and see if he finds my joke funny. At the end of the tour, we were given the chance to play the role of the weather man or a news reader. You can take home a video of that if you want.

We did not get to the Radio City Stage Door Tour at all because we simply ran out of time in New York. Oh well, we’ll be back some day I’m sure.

Off we went to the lobby where the elevators are to bring us up to the Top of the Rock.

We first watched a short video on the history behind the Rockefeller Center before they let us up. It was quite boring if you ask me.

As I was told, the Top of the Rock is far, far, far less crowded than the Empire State Building. It is a lot more spacious and you can relax here. The Empire State Building is like madness. I had blogged about my trip to the Empire State Building here before … if you care to read that is.

There are glass panels all round. While it is great for viewing but really, it is bad for photography. Can’t have it all, can I?

The most commanding view from the Top of the Rock is of Central Park. You cannot see the Central Park from the Empire State Building.

I like New York’s Central Park and had spent some time here before … and blogged about it too. I was an accidental extra in the movie that is showing now … Ghost Town! See if you can spot me in the movie … am the guy sitting next to the hot dog stand. :-) Read about my minor role on the Ghost Town movie here.

If you ask me if there is one place to go, either the Empire State or the Top of the Rock, I’ll still say the Empire State building. Despite the crowd and huge queue, there is nothing like being able to say I was there on the Empire State Building.

I took lots of pictures but wished I had picked a better day to be here. The light was harsh and the air quality was poor. So, the pictures did not turn out the way I wanted them to be.

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New York: Junior’s Cheesecake

I once read somewhere that the best New York Style Cheesecakes are from Lindy’s and Junior’s. Suanne is a fan of cheesecake and so we just had to go to a cheesecake place while we’re here. Since I had already been to Lindy’s, we decided to go to Junior’s.

It was so coincidental that there is a Junior’s restaurant just at the place where we queued up at TKTS to buy tickets to a Broadway show.

I like Junior’s bright interior better than Lindy’s. It is more of a restaurant than a cheesecake joint although Junior’s claim to fame is their “Most Fabulous Cheesecakes”. Service was good but we found it kind of strange that the young waiter who waited on us admitted to us right up front he had just started working … and he does look very nervous. LOL!

Suanne ordered the Fresh Strawberry Cheese Pie over their “Our Famous No 1 Original Cheesecake”. It was a hard choice for Suanne. I asked her to order both but knowing her she refused. To Suanne, it was every bit of cheesecake that she imagined it to be. Suanne knows cheesecake and if she approves, then it had to be good. I asked her how was it … she just cut another piece with her fork, put it in her mouth, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and did not say anything. It was that good. $7.

I like chocolates. So I ordered the Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake which costs the same ($7). Although I am not much of a cake fan, it was pretty good. It has the creamiest combination of mousse and cheesecake I had ever tried. It is so smooth and creamy that I felt it literally melt in my mouth.

The most exciting part of this meal is the Junior’s Skyscraper Ice Cream Soda which I had with something called Hoboken (pineapple and chocolate, I think). When the young waiter brought it to us, he apologized saying he had not seen anyone ordered this before. I asked him how on earth am I going to deal with the scoop of chocolate ice cream hanging largely outside the glass and threatening to fall off at any minute. He said he had no idea and that he is sorry! LOL! We had a great laugh. The neighboring tables had a chuckle at our ice cream soda too.

So … what do you do? The glass is already full. If I attempt to push it into the glass it will surely overflow.

Somehow, I managed and in the process limited the mess. I had never been so stressed over a glass of ice cream soda in my life. Suanne refused to help and just kept on giggling watching me frantically trying to dilute the icre cream into the soda.

$24.60 was the bill. The cakes were awesome. Between Junior’s and Lindy’s, I felt the cheesecake in Lindy’s is a tad better.

Junior's Cheesecake on Urbanspoon

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New York: Catching a Broadway Show

One of the touristy thing to do in New York is to watch a Broadway Show. However, what really puts us off watching these shows are the atrocious cost of tickets. These tickets could easily run to over $100 per person.

Suanne and I decided we do the touristy thingy by attending a show. Just like many of the people here, we had no clear idea what we wanted to watch — we just wanted to watch a show. We are cheap people you see … and like cheap people, we went to the TKTS booth to buy “same-day” tickets. TKTS sells tickets just hours before showtime at a discount (about 25% to 50%) so that they can fill the seats which will otherwise be left empty.

When I was in London, I caught a West End theater show through TKTS too. It was just like any ticket booth with a wait of just a few minutes. But over here in NYC, the queue is total madness. I had never been in such a long queue before.

We thought we do the smart thing by being there 15 minutes before the TKTS box office opens. It was not so smart after all because there were already HUNDREDS of people already on the queue. The queue was so bloody long that it snaked from outside of one end of the the building to the other end … SEVEN TIMES! And that was 15 minutes before the ticket booth opened. By the time the queue started to move, I was right in the middle of the maze that I had no idea how big the queue was.

The queue moved quite fast but even that it took us like over 30 minutes to get to the front. It was simply madness.

So, while waiting, we had to decide what show to watch right? We did not want to loose our spot in the queue to go to the board to see what tickets were available (and most importantly what price!). Suanne kept the spot while I jostled with the hordes of tourists at the board. I shortlisted a few shows (on the palm of my hand) because who knows if the ones we wanted are still available by the time we got to the front. Can you read my handwriting?

We finally landed with Young Frankenstein. Despite the discount, it was quite expensive at $62 each. Oh, they only accept cash which is kind of odd to us because how many people carry so much cash these days all the time? Suanne and I scrapped all that we had in our bag and pockets and just have enough USD for the show.

After getting the tickets, we went sightseeing to other spots before returning to Times Square for the show in the evening.

So, was the show good? Well, it was a silly goofy show if you ask me. The plot was so predictable and it was not even funny. The show was not bad but it was just a so-so show. I bet Stomp would have been much better but did not have enough cash for the tickets.

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New York: David’s Bagel on 1st Ave

We had wanted to go to Luzzo’s for brunch. Luzzo’s was supposedly considered as one of the best pizza places in New York City. We made it all the way to there only to find out that they won’t be opened for another hour. Not wanting to waste time waiting for an hour, we decided to just pop over a bagel place across the street.

We just randomly went into this place called David’s Bagel. From the outside it looked very promising because they have piles of delicious looking, sweet smelling, freshly made bagels. Also, I wanted Suanne to try real New York bagels.

We decided to just share a bagel between the two of us. The plan was to eat a little here and there but in a few places. The choice was excellent … the bagel we had was as good as it could get.

What we had was the Lox Onion Omelet in Buttered Garlic Bagel. Sounds delicious huh? It was. The bagels were made on the premises and quite a lot of people walked in to buy them to take away. I had never come across bagels like this in Vancouver. This one costs $5. Not bad.

This is kind of weird finding this in a bagel joint but their drink special of the day was the Thai Iced Tea. It looked too orangey but tastes exactly like the HK-Style Milk Tea we find in Vancouver. $3.67 … pretty expensive, I say.

After that meal, we scampered all over the city … like headless chicken. We bounced from one place to another. We visited Chinatown, and Little Italy. We also made our way to the Grand Central Station where we also got ourselves the Fried Oyster Po’Boy that I enjoyed so much the last time I was in NYC. Since I had already blogged about it, I’ll just leave the link here if you so wish to read about it.

We also got ourselves some Italian Ice (or at least I think it’s what it’s called) from a street vendor. It was nice for a hot day but it was expensive if you ask me. The lady charged us $2 for this. I am not sure if she over charged us because Suanne and I looked every bit a tourist!

David's Bagels on Urbanspoon

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New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

There is a tourist site in New York City that not only is that it’s exclusive but free … but also that they give you money to visit them. I am not kidding … not at all … and I mean American Dollars, the greenback. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to visit this place can just walk in here.

The place is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Over a month before we left for this vacation, we sent in an application to visit the Federal Reserve Bank. They came back a few weeks later with a very impressive formal letter authorizing our visit at a given date and time which they enforce very strictly. If you are late by just 1 minute, sorry dude. So, we woke up early, skipped breakfast and went straight to the entrance of the fortress like Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

There are actually a total of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the US but the one here in New York is the most important of them all and the largest in terms of assets.

Security was darn tight. They only clear one person at a time. First they check our IDs and official invitation at the door. Once checked OK, they shout our names to the next security level who cross check their list before they let us through to the secondary security check. Only when one is cleared the secondary check does the next visitor is processed. Granted too, photography is strictly prohibited. So, sorry, no pictures of the insides.

The interior is simply beautiful. It was so sparkling clean that even the lockers where we were to stash our bags looked many times classier than those you find in a 5-star hotel. We learned a lot about money, money and money. The exhibition area were very comprehensive and even include one of the remaining dozen $20 Double Eagle coins in the world. It last changed hands for $8 million dollars.

The best part of the tour was when they took us way down into the basement. It was something like 6-7 stories underground and below sea level where the infamous gold vault are located. This is where the largest collection of the world’s gold reserve is kept. We saw all the gold and it was amazing to see it for our own eyes. Security is like what you find in the movies. You know how thick is the vault door? 15 feet thick! And moreover it is completely airtight. If you get locked in the vault, there is no way for you to get out because it is timed and you better pray to God that there are enough air in there to last until the door reopens again.

And the workers there all wears steel boots … no, not like those that people wear in construction site. The ones here are real steel boots and you know why? It’s because often the heavy gold ingots does fall and if one just land on your feet, you can betcha your toes will be gone.

At the end of the tour they gave each of us 50 bucks. And it is real money too … well … except that they were all shredded!

If you are visiting New York, you should consider applying for an invitation to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. If you love money, you will come out from this visit loving money more. I love money and I love money more now. Oh … money … glorious mooooneeeeey!!!

After the Federal Reserve Bank visit which took almost 2 hours, we walked to the Federal House and the NYSE. Suanne had an afinity to this place because she used to work as a IS Manager in a stockbroking firm in Malaysia. Coming to see the NYSE is like going to Mecca for her.

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