New York: The Empire State Building

Of the thousands of pictures I took in the entire trip, it is this picture from the top of the Empire State Building I liked the best. So, I just gotta put it up as the first picture of this post. I just simply love the twinkly glitter of the entire landscape and have used this as a wallpaper on my computers. I know … it is so busy that it makes a lousy wallpaper. I even have a difficult time locating my icons on it! Who cares … I like it.

See the bright spot on the top left? Guess where that is.

What I like to tell people is that this is taken hand held. I find it amazing that it came up so sharp that I can even make out the cars and road markings on the street. Go on … click on the picture and see it in higher resolution.

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I was pretty excited about making the visit to the highest building in New York. As you all well know, the Empire State Building had been the highest building in NYC since September 11, 2001. This 102 story building was also the tallest building in the world from 1931 and 1970 — which also meant that it held the world tallest title for the longest time.

I got to the base of the building about an hour before sunset. This will be the high point (pun unintended) of my first day in New York City. Frankly, looking for the building is dead easy. All other buildings around it looked so short compared to it.

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The Empire State Building was built at the height of the Great Depression. I was amazed to learn that it was built in just 13 months. When it was completed and since the US was in deep recession, the building stood empty for sometime. They built it because it provided jobs but ended up with the nickname of the Empty State Building.

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I went on a Friday night and just before dinner time for most people. So there were not many people there. Despite that, it took me 20-30 minutes to get to the top. To get the observation deck, I had to go through lines after lines.

First, it was to get into line to purchase the ticket. I dutifully lined up not realizing until I got to the counter that for CityPass holders, we could skip this line and head straight to the next line.

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Then it was this other line right after the ticket booths. Looking at the way the snaking lines were setup, I sure was glad I picked a good time to come. It was later that I learn it will take up to 3 hours on weekends to get up to the deck. Oh man … oh man … (more…)

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New York: The Museum of Modern Art

On the first day in NYC, I also had the chance to visit the Museum of Modern Art which is also called MOMA. MOMA is perhaps the most important museum of modern art in the world. This is the home of van Gogh’s Starry Night and famous art pieces by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Monet. I do not know how to really appreciate art and whatever I know of art is from my visits to art museums. So, I did not really spend a lot of time here. The reason I was here was because the CityPass includes entrance to MOMA and I simply had to see for myself what MOMA is really about.

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I got myself a floor plan and an audio guide. My plan was to cover as much as possible to shortly before the sun starts to set. The reason was I want to be on the Empire State Building and take pictures of the sun set from there. It was not easy because the MOMA had six stories of exhibits.

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I started with the Architecture and Design exhibits. This, I could relate to. What follows after this I could not understand at all …

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I really tried my very best to understand. This is a “painting” by an American artist and is called The Italians. It’s all scribbling in oil, pencil and crayon. Here is what is described of this painting:

“Wild, scribbled, graffiti-like marks energize the expansive white surface of The Italians, revealing the artists’s sensous joy in manipulating his medium. The explosion of signs, ironically, is not without order or clarity: the rubbing of charcoal on the far left side of the canvas reveals the stretcher bar beneath it, a red heart can be seen at the bottom, and “rom” is written just beneath the artist’s signature at the top right”.

Yeah … right.

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Then there is this other masterpiece called Leda and the Swan. Can you see “it”? Come on … look hard. Read this description …

“In this work, Twombly refers to the Roman myth in which Jupiter, lord of the gods, takes the shape of the swan in order to ravish Leda, the beautiful mother of Helen (over whom the Trojan war would be fought). Twombly’s version of this old art-historical theme supplies no contrast of feathers and flesh but a fusion of violent energies in furious thrashing overlays of crayon, pencil and ruddy paint. A few recognizable signs – hearts, a phallus – fly out of this explosion, in stark contrast to the sober windowlike rectangle near the top of the painting”.

Alright, if you say so …

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I have no idea what this one is but at least this is colourful … (more…)

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New York: Oyster Bar Takeout in Grand Central Terminal

I did comment that most of the subway stations in New York leaves much to be desired and that they kind of smell in some places. Yucks! However, there is one that is the prettiest of all … it is the Grand Central Terminal.

The Grand Central Terminal is located in midtown Manhattan somewhere on 42nd Street. This was the main train terminal in New York City and was built in 1913. During that era, train transportation is at its peak. Even today it is known as the largest rail station in the world in terms of number of platforms.

The station is well maintained but really there is nothing much to see or do. Like the hordes of other tourists, I just took pictures of the main hall and walk around a bit. I would not be surprised if this is the most photographed train station in the world.

One thing I noticed too … there are fully armed soldiers in the building. They try to be inconspicuous but you won’t miss them … standing at corners with their automatic rifles. Should I feel safe or should I not? I guess I should.

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A reader of chowtimes (Marie Franco) recommended that I go try Oyster Bar. I did a bit of research before I went and indeed, I found that the Oyster Bar in the station is world famous for their seafood and interior decor. This restaurant is as old as the Grand Central Terminal having opened the same time.

It was easy to find. I went and checked their menu at the entrance of the restaurant. It was expensive to say the least … their catch of the day starts at $25. It’s my first day in NY and I was a bit careful about my spending. I decided it was too much to spend. Instead, I went to their sandwich take out counter.

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Sandwiches are much more cheaper. The guy that manned the counter was a spectacle. It was a one man show and I had never seen someone worked that fast before. You got to see for yourself to know what I mean.

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The take-out bag looked nice, don’t you think? People would had thought I had bought something from 5th Ave or something. I went to the food court downstairs and had my lunch there. (more…)

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New York: The United Nations

I actually had not planned to visit the United Nations on the first day. It was supposed to be one of the “B-List” places that I had written down. But I guess I lost my bearing around midtown Manhattan and somehow ended up walking in the east ward direction. Before I knew it, I see all kind of people of different nationalities all attired in suits and national costumes … and for some reason I could not figure out, all of them were carrying big, big piles of files.

I checked the street I was on against the map … and found that I was just half a block away from the United Nations. Oh well, since I am already here, I went on to visit the United Nations.

Unlike all over Manhattan where every square foot of land are built up with skyscrapers, the United Nations complex is located on a very spacious ground. The UN complex consists of a 38 stories Secretariat tower and the General Assembly Building.

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The grounds around the complex had quite a number of outdoor sculptures donated by nations around the world. Perhaps the most poignant sculpture to me was the knotted gun (below). This one graced the visitor entrance to the UN.

There is also a section of the Berlin Wall on display too. Another one that I really admire is the gift from Japan … a simple Peace Bell which is cast from coins collected by children all over the world … and this coming from a defeated country during the second world war.

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I signed up for the Guided Tour. I can’t remember exactly how much but I think it’s about $13 or so. We were brought on a tour around the General Assembly building.

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We got to see the Security Council. The Security Council is perhaps the most powerful body of the UN. This is where their main task is to deliberate on peace and security. The Security Council is made up of 5 permanent members (victors of WWII) and 10 temporary seats. Can you name which countries that made up the 5 permanent seats? (more…)

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New York: Getting Around Manhattan

New York is a really expensive city. I spent a whole week scouring the internet for hotels and the best I could come up with was a $150 rundown hotel room in Manhattan. I finally got a motel room in New Jersey (North Bergen) that costs only $89. It was a pretty good sized room but the best thing is that it takes just 15 minutes to get from the hotel doorstep to the Port Authority Bus terminal.

The moment I got out of the station, I spotted the Chrysler Building — it was pretty exciting to me. Can’t believe I was finally in New York!

Before I came to NYC, I had been quite fearful of crime, especially when I had planned to lug all my camera gear in a backpack with the tripod that juts out — a dead giveaway that I have camera in my bag. You know what … my fears were totally unfounded. I had never felt more safer in any American city than in NYC. There were so many police cars and police men on EVERY block.

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The first morning I ended up in Manhattan was pretty overwhelming. A short 3 minutes walk from Port Authority brought me up to Times Square. It was exactly how I imagined it to be — very busy and lots of animated digital advertisements all over the place. They are bright even in the morning.

I remember it took me quite a while to get myself oriented. My first stop was the visitor center to get some info. For this trip, I had planned not to go for a Broadway show but would definitely want to get into the David Letterman’s Late Night Show (more about that later).

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I also got myself a bunch of free maps. These maps were simply indispensable. I used them so much that they did not last more than 3 days, they were all torn up. Anyway, they were available in lots of places, so finding a replacement was easy.

The ones I use a lot (the yellow one on the left), is the subway map. Traveling via the subway is often the best option. The purple one in the middle is the bus map. The last one on the right is the Manhattan street map which shows street names in greater detail. Generally, if I wanted to travel north-south, I would use the subway … and then if I wanted to travel east-west, I used the bus. NYC has a very efficient public transportation. It is so efficient that I heard NYC has the lowest percentage of people owning drivers licenses.

NYC is big, but not that big. By that, I mean NYC is very much walkable as it is flat and a lot of attractions are close to one another. So, sometimes I don’t bother to take the subway or buses and just walk … it’s a great way to see the city.

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New York: Flying Continental from YVR to EWR

This is the first time I flew with Continental. I must fess up regarding the $110 flight ticket … there are no direct flights from Vancouver to New York. The connection is in Houston. Thaaaaat’s right … instead of just fly east-west directly, I fly way south and then up north.

But I must say I am most pleasantly surprise with Continental. Like I said, never flew with them before. I had always thought that United and Delta was the best but Continental is better to me. I will tell you why further down the blog.

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My destination is the Newark airport in New Jersey. Despite that Newark is in NJ, it is basically a New York area airport. As a matter of fact, Newark is closer to NYC than JFK.

The stopover in Houston was good with just an hour wait before the connecting flight. My “Plan B” in case I don’t get on to New York was to stay a night in Houston and visit the city. It was not necessary because both Houston and Newark are Continental hubs and there are hourly flights between them … lots of empty seats on my connection flight.

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It is on flights that I try drinks that I had never tried before. This is not overly exciting I know … Seagram’s Ginger Ale? Well, heard of it but never tried it. How does it taste … well, all pop tastes the same to me.

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This is what I like about Continental the best … they provide food … for FREE! It was nothing to shout about but considering that all other American airlines who provides free peanut packs or sells snack boxes, this is simply awesome. The box includes a surprisingly nice moist & soft muffin, some Cheerios (with milk!) and a small pack of raisins. I am happy.

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Continental does come by quite often asking if anyone wanted more drinks … (more…)

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New York: Going to New York

Hey all … I had a great time in New York last month. I spent a full week in the Big Apple by myself … that’s right … I traveled by myself. As some of you have know, I had been travelling alone and as odd as some of you may think, I greatly enjoy it … especially the opportunity to take as long as I like making pictures.

BTW, I had never knew why New York is called the Big Apple. I asked friends and no one seems to really know the answer. NN told me that it’s called the Big Apple because New York is big enough to offer everyone a bite of. I think NN is just BS’ing.

I love that shot of the Empire State Building below and thought it should grace the first picture of this blog series. It’s taken from the old vibrating Brooklyn Bridge and with a extra long zoom (200mm with 1.4x extender!!). It came up tack sharp.

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A month prior to this trip, I raided the Richmond Public Library for all the travel books related to New York. I ended up with using this book for the entire trip. It is a series called the Eyewitness Travel Guides. What I like about this book is that this book “shows” me what other books only “tells” me.

There are a lot of colorful pictures on every page with 3D maps. The size is just perfect for me … I hate lugging around 2″ thick books or a book so small that I can hardly read the prints. Next time you need a travel book, you should check this series out. I had used the same book for my solo trip around Europe earlier this year. After a week, the book does get worn out. Oh, I must have been taking the book in and out of my bag like 50 times a day!

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You can buy the book off Amazon here:

I had been asked many times before … does Ben work … where does he find so much time to travel. I remember someone commenting on this blog that all I ever do is eat and travel. Well, some of you knows that I work for the aviation industry. Basically, I manage aviation systems development projects which gives me a lot of opportunity to travel. The company I work for has offices in every country where there is an airport or airline. My business unit, which deals with everything to do with “airfares”, has major offices in Vancouver, Atlanta and London. So, I do most of my travel between these cities.

The biggest perk of the company which I love so much is the number of leave I get each year (4 weeks) and the fact my family and I can travel on staff prices in most airlines. For example, the flight tickets for this trip to New York from Vancouver, BC just costs me $50 bucks … that’s right, there is no typo … it’s just fifty bucks. Well, tack in the taxes of $60 and all I paid is just $110. It is so ridiculously cheap that often I pay more for the cab ride from the airport to the city.

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So, with 2.5 weeks of vacation days left to clear before the end of the year, I decided to make use of my once a year travel opportunity on Continental Airlines. I read that the best time to travel to New York is in fall. NY could be a very humid and hot city in summer. Another impetus to travel now is that the Canadian Dollar is so strong against the USD. (more…)

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