I have neither the patience nor the inclination to make this travelogue as rich and full as it could be; the trip was all that and more. But this will serve as a reminder of our 2015 trip to New York City.
First Day of Travel
We left the house shortly after 4:00 pm on July 27 to head toward the Little Rock airport. On the way, we had decided, we’d stop in Bryant and have an early dinner at the Desi Den. We’ve been there several times for the lunch buffet, which provides a wide array of foods from which to sample. Dinner, not so; oh, you can get an array, but not at low prices. The dinner menu prices are not outrageous, but they are much higher than lunch. My wife opted for goat curry. I went for the lamb vindaloo. Both were very good, as was the accompanying naan, but I would not put the place in my list of the top ten Indian restaurants.
After dinner, we drove on to the Holiday Inn Express at Little Rock airport. Our flight the next morning was scheduled for 6:00 a.m., so we wimped out and decided we didn’t want to rise and drive at 3:00 a.m. After zipping across the street to score a six pack of Michelob Amberbock (the best option from pretty slim pickings). As I write this, my favorite wife is watching “So You Think You Can Dance.” I wonder what’s on PBS right now? Ah, it’s all right; I’m happy just thinking with my fingers for the moment.
The next day’s flights were scheduled as follows: 6:00 a.m. from Little Rock to Chicago O’hare; 8:50 a.m. Chicago O’hare to New York LaGuardia.
We awoke before 4:00 a.m. to prepare for our day of travel. The hotel shuttle was just about to leave for the airport when we got downstairs; it was too full to take us, so we waited around ten minutes for the next trip. We got to the airport easily, only to discover at check-in that my tickets had not been processed. After a fifteen minute wait, the agent got the problem resolved and gave us boarding passes. Once inside the secure area, we stopped for a bagel. I ordered a cheddar and jalapeño bagel and was charged $6.45; I said “that’s a hell of a lot of money for just a bagel.” The guy said, “thank you,” and gave me change for my ten, along with a receipt. The receipt was for something else. Ten minutes later, I got part of the refund I was due, but was too tired of waiting to fight for ninety cents.
We boarded a little Brazilian aircraft, three seats across, and flew to Chicago; no issues. We then boarded a 737 and flew to Laguardia; no issues. We opted to get a cab instead of riding a shuttle, due to our desire NOT to lug two bags and two other carry-ons around the streets of New York. Instead, we spend the better part of a hour and a half and $60 on a cab ride in mind-boggling traffic.
After checking in to the hotel, we walked a short half-block to an interesting Irish bar and grill, Tir na nog Times Square, where I had a nice Rockaway Black Gold Stout, brewed in Queens, along with a nice shepherd’s pie. Janine had a very good burger.
The first order of business was to buy 7-day metro passes so we could ride buses and subways without worrying about change. Then, we wandered a bit an stopped in at Beer Authority NYC, where I had an Ohara’s Irish Stout and we witnessed a guy proposing to his girlfriend. She accepted. It was a high class affair. His buddy, smiling at us, was having as much fun as the betrotheds. After a bit more walking, we were back at the room for a well-deserved nap.
Around 6:00 p.m., we headed out, our destination being Arte Cafe on West 73rd Street, where we would meet with Teresa, my poet friend, a blogger and Facebook friend I’ve known online for several years and visited with twice before. She took the train in from Syracuse to NYC to visit us. After a false start going the wrong direction on the number 3 train, we turned around and headed in the right direction, getting off at 72nd Street. We were early, so we wandered around Columbus Avenue for a bit, nosing about to see what we could see. Once place, in particular, captured our interest: Maille, a specialty shop that carries fabulous mustards and vinegars and oils and assorted other goodies. We tasted some spectacular vinegrettes; we liked them enough that we may buy some and have them shipped back to us.
And then, finally, we met Teresa, who had invited her good friend, Arthur, to join us. He’s an attorney and a poet and a good friend of Teresa’s for years. We had a grand dinner (mine was carpacio, followed by linguine ala vongolle and my wife’s was misto salad, followed by Scampi al Prosecco, a spectacular shrimp dish with what I believe to be a lemon-infused rissotto. Nice conversation, nice meal, nice people.
After taking the subway back to 42nd Street, we exited the subway tunnel to a madhouse of humanity at Times Square around ten in the evenining. And it looked like it was just getting started. The sidewalks were absolutely jammed with people, the lights of Times Square were brilliantly lit and flashing, and it presented the sort of environment I find simultaneously exhilirating and suffocating. We waded through the crowds, slowly, and got back to our hotel, where I’m writing about the say before it fades into memory.
Breafast, after arising late and dawdling, was purchased from a market near 39th Street, just north on Tenth Avenue. My entire wife bought a bagel with cream cheese, salmon, and red onion. I bought a wrap with egg, and cheese and jalapeños.
After taking our goodies back to the room and eating them (extremely tasty!), we walked to the 42nd Street subway station and got on the E train; it took us to the stop nearest the World Trade Center. We walked to the museum, stood in long lines to buy tickets and wait for entrance, and then we spent several hours being depressed and saddened and uplifted and made to feel hopeless…over and over again. It was a gut-wrenching experience, one everyone who has the wherewithal should have.
I can’t say I think the memorial, nor the museum, have the courage to truly address the underlying motives of the monsters who undertook the carnage, but it was a good effort, nonetheless. I was struck by the sheer scale of the destruction and the number of lives lost and ruined forever. More than anything, it convinced me that, no matter how bitter and resentful and downtrodden; no matter how badly one feels wronged, there is no conceivable justification for those horrible acts of terror.
After the museum and memorial, we wanted around a bit, peeking in windows and getting a lay of the land. We ended up having lunch at a place called Saleya, an eclectic Mediterranean restaurant. I had a merguez sandwich and mi esposa bonita had a watermelon salad; they both were spectacular.
After stopping in at a mystery bookstore called The Mysterious Bookshop, where my mystery-loving wife bought a couple of books.
From there, another ride on the E Train to the stop nearest our hotel and a couple of hours of respite.
Then, we hoped we’d be able to meet my friend Teresa, of the previous night, at Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant recommended by our friends Gary and Christopher. She wasn’t able to make it, but we went, nonetheless. We started with an appetizer of Sambousa stuffed with spiced beef. Then, awaze tibs (lamb) for me, heavily spiced kitfo (raw ground beef) for esposa bonita, Spectacular meals!
To top it off, a wedding party arrived to celebrate their recent or upcoming marriage (not sure which). The bride, a white woman in all white, was joined by a black man, in all black formal attire, seemed to enjoy a wonderful Ethiopian celebratory dinner.
Back to the hotel, where I’m presently (as I write this) relaxing with a little alcoholic libation.
Tomorrow, if things go well, we’ll try to link up with Teresa. And we’ll follow up with Larry, who I spoke with today, about getting together for dinner; grilled octopus, if the stars are aligned!
I woke early, as usual, and wrote a couple of blog posts, then went back to bed. We then got up rather late, almost eight o’clock. I called Teresa and we arranged to meet for a late breakfast at Zabar’s, an iconic deli, market, and kitchen store. Janine had a croissant, while I splurged on a bagel with cream cheese and salmon. After breakfast, we wandered around the kitchen store a bit, then walked to Teresa’s hotel, the Millburn, to look around the lobby; next time in New York, I’m apt to want to book a room there, as it’s the perfect neighborhood, from my perspective.
We parted ways as Teresa made her way to Penn Station for her trip back to Syracuse. Janine and I walked over to Columbus Avenue and gawked for awhile, then decided on a light lunch to follow on our late breakfast. We stopped in at Sido Falafel & More, where I got a special plate with hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and Janine had a falafel sandwich. We then hopped back on the subway to our hotel, where we promptly napped for a couple of hours.
We had arranged to meet my friend, Larry, at Taverna Kyclades in Astoria, which he had assured me had some of the best grilled octopus in the known universe. We hopped on the N train and headed to Astoria, last stop on the line. Rain had begun falling just as we left our hotel, though it was not bad. But by the time we got to Astoria, it was pouring. Slightly disoriented, we started out heading the wrong way, but quickly recovered and found the restaurant, but we were very early. And it was raining. Hard! So we slipped into a little coffee shop called Caffé Bene Ditmars, where I had a marvelous iced coffee and Janine had a tea with lemonade. We whiled away the time drinking our drinks and watching the sidewalk traffic and enjoying the respite from “travel.” When the time came, we crossed the street to the restaurant. Larry joined us soon thereafter and we ordered our meals.
He was right about the grilled octopus! And the grilled salted sardines were spectacular, as well. Astoria, Queens has a very large Greek concentration. The markets and restaurant scene emphasize the Greek culture. After dinner, we went for a little walk and Larry showed us several markets and a cool Greek biergarten. We had a great time and it left us wanting to go back to see Astoria, but with access to a vehicle so we could load up food to ship (or drive) back home.
We took the subway back to Manhattan and walked back to the hotel. I zipped out and bought some diet Cokes and some chunks of watermelon and some sweet bread for breakfast. Janine stayed in the room and ate cookies that Larry had bought for her at one of the markets we visited, a very nice bakery.
Back at the hotel, Janine called her friend, Marianne, and arranged for us to go to Brooklyn to meet her on Saturday morning. And then I sat to write about Day Four, which I just did.
We slept in on day five, though I did get up and write my blog posts in the relatively wee hours before returning to bed. Later, I was astonished when I rolled over and saw that it was after 8:00 a.m. We had a leisurely breakfast in the room, consisting of risotto from the evening meal two nights earlier, plus chunks of watermelon and a slice of sweet banana nut bread. After a slow start, we took the subway north to 96th Street at Lexington. We strolled for a bit, as we headed toward the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, but we decided to stop for a light lunch before the museum. We stumbled into an Italian place, Paola’s Restaurant, on Madison Avenue at 92nd Street. Once inside, I wished we hadn’t stopped, because it was a white tablecloth place and I was dressed, as always, in shorts and a t-shirt. No matter. They seated us. The prices for lunch are the same as for dinner in this place. Another negative from my perspective. We each ordered a half-order (acceptable at $16 each); mine was pappardelle con ragú (flat ribbon noodles with duck ragú and Janine’s was Pico con Asparagi (house-made spaghettie with asparagus and lemon zest. Instantly, my doubts and negatives disappeared! The food was absolutely remarkable; the flavors were delightful. I’d go back in a heartbeat and order a full meal and sides. The food there really is of exceptionally high quality. SO glad we stopped there!
After the surprise lunch, we walked to the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. We spent two hours there, first on a docent-led tour of the third floor exposition, entitled, “Provocations: the Architecture and Design of Heatherwick.” That, alone, was worth the price and the visit. Thomas Heatherwick is an incredible designer. I love his philosophy, which says, essentially, “I do not want to create a Heatherwick ‘style,’ I want to solve problems in ways that appeal to humans.” If you don’t know of Heatherwick’s work, you should take a look at some of the projects on his website at www.heatherwick.com/. I was impressed, but far less so, with the remainder of the museum.
From the Cooper-Hewitt (which, incidentally, was Andrew Carnegie’s personal mansion, completed in 1902), we walked to, and across Central Park, skirting the Central Park Reservoir and listening to a thousand languages along the way.
Once across the Park, we walked past Central Park West, Columbus Avenue, and Amsterdam Avenue to Broadway, then walked south and made another visit to Zabar’s. We bought a few cheeses (Drunken Goat, a fine cheddar, and a chunk of parmesan), a container of spiced olives, some sliced salami, and some sourdough French bread. A quick subway trip back to the Times Square/42nd Street station and we were almost back at the hotel (well, we had to walk several blocks, but it didn’t seem far). Almost at the hotel, Janine spied a tiny little shop that advertised ice cream. We stopped and found they had only one kind: coconut. Naturally, that’s exactly what she wanted. She bought it, but it turned out to be a poor imitation of good coconut ice cream. Such is life.
After a brief cool-down in the room, we walked to a nearby market and bought a diet coke, an apple, and a plum. From there, off to a little liquor/wine shop across from the hotel for a bottle of sauvignon blanc. The hotel has a free laundry, which Janine opted to use, so after the clothes were done, we enjoyed a dinner of fruit and cheese and bread and wine, right in our room. It was a welcome bit of relaxation.
The day began lazy and late. Janine had called her friend in Brooklyn the evening before to coordinate schedules. They decided we should take the number 2 line subway to Brooklyn, getting off at the Clark Street station. We did so and Janine’s friend met us a few minutes after we got there and called her. We walked the short two blocks to her apartment, then set out on a walking architecture tour of Brooklyn Heights, which this friend knows quite well. Two and a half hours later, we went back to her apartment, where she made a very nice lunch of tortellini with pesto sauce. Over lunch, we chatted about her husband’s writing (he recently published his first novel, Johnny Don’t March) and the fact that he was temporarily in California helping out with a grandchild who broke a leg. After lunch, we set out again, this time walking to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park is spectacular. The walkway along the river offers a long, leisurely, lovely view of the city. At the end of the walk along the river, we came upon DUMBO neighborhood. DUMBO is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The neighborhood is an old industrial park that’s in the midst of a transformation into residential and entertainment. We were enchanted by a Washington Street view from which the Empire State Building can be seen framed by some uprights of the Manhattan Bridge. After our long walks, we stopped at Fascati Pizza on Henry Street, very near the Clark Street Station, where we sat and enjoyed an Italian Ice. Thence, we walked to the High Street Metro station, where we boarded a C train for the ride back to the 42nd Street/Port Authority station.
Following a short break to rest our feet, we walked across 39th to Cafe Mofongo, where we hoped to get some Dominican food (mofongo camarones) to take back to the room, only to find it had closed at 6:00 p.m. So, instead we walked down to 9th Avenue and stopped in at Aceluck for a Thai dinner of pork pad kee mow for me and green chicken curry for Janine. I had a Laotion beer, called Beerlao. because it was required of me by my conscience. Full and satisfied, we left and crossed to the other side of 9th Avenue, where we stopped at a little grocery and bough some Goose Summer Ale.
Then, we walked back to the hotel, where I finished writing about the day.
Another very late start. It was 9:00 a.m. before my wife awoke. I had been up for quite some time, but had been lazy, just writing a tad and reading mindless stuff on the internet. When she got up, I suggested we go out for breakfast; she seemed less than enthused with the idea, but agreed, nonetheless. However, my interest in going to Cafe Mofongo for a Dominican breakfast was not as strong as Janine’s interest in not going, so we ended up at Westway Diner, where we both had corned beef hash with poached eggs; the place is actually my kind of diner, with lots of harried wait-staff serving a large crowd of Sunday morning diners.
The next stop of the day was Kalustyan’s, a specialty foodstore and eatery that specializes in Indian food and its relatives. We wandered through the store for quite some time. It was a quick subway ride away, just two stops from where we got on. I was prepared to buy enormous volumes of food, from bomba rice to African peri-peri sauce (it has far outgrown its original limited geography to cover the entire near and far east and Africa, and beyond). Good sense prevailed, but I found its website and was pleased to learn I can order online and have food shipped to me; this, of course, could be problematic with respect to my bank balance and available storage space in the house.
A walk around Kalustyan’s neighborhood cemented my appreciation for the area. With a bit more time, I suspect I could find precisely the kind of clothes I have always wanted; loose, lightweight, casual stuff. Maybe one day.
We walked the many, many, many blocks from Kalustyan’s to Chinatown, where we peered in windows, watched the people, and experienced the aromas of exotic foods. Finally, we stopped for a late lunch at Great New York Noodletown, a place recommended by my friend, Larry. He had suggested the Salt Balked Shrimp with a side of ginger & scallion sauce, which I ordered; Janine ordered the Seafood Porridge, a congee with shrimp, squid, sea urchin (I think), and assorted other edibles from the sea. The food was yery good; I was impressed by how filling the shrimp was and how tasty. The seafood porridge was another delight. The only downside to the place came when I went to the counter to pay. I gave the cashier two twenties and she gave me change for $30. I protested and she got nasty and loud with me. I remained calm but firm, explaining that I had only two twenties in my billfold, nothing else. She insisted I was wrong. She called a manager over, who said I should wait and suggested he would go view a video, as he pointed to a camera above the cashier. I said fine, I’ll wait. Which I did. For a long, long time. Finally, he came back and said the camera showed I had given her a twenty and a ten. Of course, the video was not available for me to view. I gave up and we left. But that left a sour taste in my mouth; no matter how good the food, I won’t recommend the place to anyone and certainly won’t eat there again. I do not blame Larry for the recommendation; I just had an unhappy experience. It could have happened anywhere. Such is life.
From there, we wandered over to Little Italy, where the atmosphere is festive but far less chaotic than in Chinatown. Several streets are closed to vehicle traffic and restaurants set up alfresco dining; lots of guys are out hawking their restaurants, inviting people to dine on “the best Italian food in New York!” I wish I had a double stomach; I would have obliged them.
We found a Q train in a nearby station and took it back to 40th and 7th Avenue, then walked back to the hotel. Dinner plans? By four o’clock, the idea of dinner had absolutely no appeal, so we relaxed in the room for a while. Finally, around seven o’clock, we walked over to the Troy Turkish Grill for carry-out. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t spectacular, but what should I expect for carry-out.
We started a bit late again, but not too late to get a lot of activities in for the day. First off, we headed toward Little Italy. We got off the train and went for a walk down and around Bleecker Street, winding our way around and seeing the sights. We stopped at John’s of Bleecker Street for a plain pizza with added Italian sausage right as it opened at 11:30 a.m. It was, as expected, delicious. From there, we across the street to the Blind Tiger Ale House, where I enjoyed a Tröeg’s Java Head Oatmeal Stout. Next, we went to a nearby bookstore, BookBook, and wandered a bit, then to Big Gay Ice Cream for dessert. Janine had a dipped cone, with caramel and salt as the dip. I had something else; I forget what. Our next stop was Three Lives & Company, another bookstore, where we roamed a bit and I found some books on writing that I wanted to buy, but didn’t: The Art of Description: World into Word, by Mark Doty and On Writing, by Stephen King.
Next trip, perhaps! Because the bookstore was such a taxing experience, my favorite wife decided we needed to stop at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Shop, which we did, for a second ice cream treat.
We walked over to Broadway, several blocks away, where we found a gorgeous church. I took a few snapshots, none of which were particularly impressive, but which will have to do since I have not other shots of the church. A couple more blocks and we found the object our our hike, Strand Book Store at 828 Broadway. The place is reminiscent of Powell’s in Portland, OR, but not as big (my guess). We were tired of walking and of bookstores (if that’s possible) by then, so we headed back to the hotel, via a subway ride. We stopped this time at the 34th Street station and walked the remainder of the way, stopping for libations at District Tap House on West 38th Street, where I had two outstanding beers: a Finback Double Session and a Knee Deep Simtra triple IPA, the latter of which was perhaps one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
I had wanted a Pipeworks Blood of the Unicorn, but they were out and they were out of the Finnback Auspicious Day. Finback is a brewery based in Queens, so I got some local flavor. Pipeworks, of the beer I did not taste, is in Illinois. Knee Deep is located in Auburn, CA, northeast of Sacramento; I want to go on a pilgrimage to the place.
Following libations, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit before heading out to dinner. On our way back to the hotel, we came across a store display window that was full of “sparklies.” We immediately thought of Janine’s sister, sho loves “sparklies.” I decided to take a picture instead of buying one for her (she might, after all, insist on wearing it around Hot Springs Village). The photo below is her memento.
Our intended target for dinner was Gazala’s Place, a Middle Eastern Israeli Druze restaurant Janine had found somewhere or other. We walked down 9th Avenue to beyond 48th Street only to find it was closed. We paced back and forth for a while before settling on Thai for the second time this trip. We ate at Yum Yum Bangkok, which was pretty decent but which does not compare to some of the Thai restaurants we used to frequent in Dallas.
Back at the hotel, we decided to check on availability of rides back to the airport for the following day, for our vacation was coming to a close. I was directed to the hotel next door, which shares a concierge with the one we stayed in, to arrange for a private car to the airport. That, I was told, would be the best and most reliable option. After standing at the concierge desk for five minutes while two concierge staffers chatted amongst themselves, then responded instantly to a bellman who said he had five guests in need of a ride to JFK, I stormed away. My wife returned a bit later, far calmer than I ever am, and arranged for the ride. My temper is short and my patience was lost sometime during my youth.
Day 9: Heading Home
My wife had arranged, the night before, for our ride to pick us up at noon. So, we had the morning to pack and take it easy. First thing, though, was for me to walk over to a nearby deli to order a couple of bagels with lox and cream cheese for breakfast. This place does it right; the bagels, lightly toasted, are perfect and the salmon meeting the cream cheese makes for a delightful way to start the day. That, plus a shared bottle of cranberry juice cocktail, made for a good breakfast.
A quick shower after breakfast, then a highly-regimented process of packing (courtesy of my disciplinarian wife), led to two full suitcases, ready to go. Next, crossing a final to-do from our list.
We walked down 39th Street toward 8th Avenue, then crossed the street to Cafe Mofongo, or Dominican Kitchen (depending on which sign is in sight) to do one thing we had not yet done: eat Mofongo. We both ordered mofongo de pernil, which is a Dominican (and Columbian and Puerto Rican and various other nationalities) dish consisting of mashed plantains jazzed up with various goodies, topped with roasted, shredded pork and served with a sauce I cannot describe except to say it is delicious. Anyway, we ordered the stuff (two orders for $20) and took it back to our hotel room, where we ate and enjoyed it.
Then, we waited for our ride, which turned out to be a mini-van driven by an Asian man of unknown origin who spoke, and listened to a dispatcher speak, a language completely unfamiliar to me. He got us to LaGuardia much faster than our cabbie had gotten us from the airport to our hotel, so we had time to kill. We murdered said time by buying and drinking water, hitting the restrooms, and sitting. And sitting. And sitting.
Finally, the anointed hour arrived and we boarded our little plane, on time, only to sit. And sit. And sit. We assumed there would be no way we’d make the next leg of our flight, inasmuch as we left 45 minutes late, but were surprised to reach Washington Reagan a little earlier than scheduled. From there, we had to catch a shuttle between two parts of our terminal. It was a piece of cake until we were in the shuttle, half-way between terminal components, when a plan stopped in front of us. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, after what seemed an interminable time, we got across, climbed the stairs to the terminal, and made our flight with a few minutes to spare.
One on our flight, we flew to Chicago. We got to O’hare with what we believed would be plenty of time to grab dinner. And it would have been fine, except my favorite wife picked Frontera Grill, the slowest “fast food” place in the midwest. Her sandwich took 30 minutes to prepare. When she finally got it, I urged her to hurry to Gate G-18, which is a LONG way from the food court. We got there, with some time to spare. She ate part of her sandwich while we waited on the plane, which took off late. In flight, she finished it. I opted not to have dinner, as I had been having a bit of difficulty with my gut, though I was famished.
We arrived in Little Rock a few minutes later than scheduled, but with plenty of time to get our bags and call the hotel to send a shuttle (we had decided we would stay the night at the Little Rock airport, rather than drive back after a long day and rather than deal with my inconsistent night vision, courtesy of a cataract which shall soon be addressed). I had texted my sister-in-law from the tarmac in Chicago, asking her to call the Little Rock hotel to warn them we might be late; she did, though it was not needed, after all.
After a restless night in an airport hotel, I got up early and wrote a blog post, had breakfast, and then returned to the room about the time my wife was arising. We then returned to the breakfast buffet, she had her fill, and we trudged back to our room to get our bags.
I went out and found our car, left in the extended hotel parking ten days earlier, and pulled in front of the hotel. We loaded up, drove to Hot Springs Village, and breathed a sigh of mixed relief and longing for a trip just ended as we entered our house.