8 unforgettable days of fun, family, travel and phenomenal food!! - Part 3

8 unforgettable days of fun, family, travel and phenomenal food!! – Part 3

Been a considerable while since posting the second part of my blog-post. Reason being – joined the highly strenuous fitness regime of Elite Core Fitness – Cross Fit!! It’s been only a week. And I’ve been sulking and cribbing of smarting pains, cramps in my arms, especially in the triceps!! Eventually when the program completes in a month’s time, I’m sure I would have benefited in improving stamina and endurance on the whole. But right now, an hour of Cross Fit for four days in a week has been seeming rather torturous!! To the extent that I feel a resistance towards do anything at all!! Ah well!! It’s just been a week. Hopefully after another week into the program, my body would have recuperated. I look forward to that day!

Now coming back to my post on my week of fun with my sister and brother-in-law. So the weekend was all about road trips.  Went to lovely, picture-perfect Hamptons. Drove to Atlantic City and watched dolphins. Had some fabulous soul food. Walked for miles on a boardwalk..

Next it was time to explore the ‘Big Apple’! Before my sister and brother-in-law visited us, I hadn’t really gone much to New York all by myself. At the most, I can count a total of, say, four or five times, when I did go to visit the city alone. And on most of these times, I found the metro subway so confusing!! Then my husband came to the rescue and introduced me to Google Maps!! Ah, the revelation! Google Maps is really a life-saver! You just type in your starting point and final destination. The maps show different routes one can take by bus, subway, walking or car. It even gives options for those who want less walking!! Isn’t that wonderful?! And the GPS locates your position and takes you across whichever street or avenue, no matter where!! Thank you, my husband! Thank you, Google Maps!! Well, when it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to experience the subway here, they were so not fond of the system! They also, like me and I’m sure many others, found the subway system not very user-friendly! After using the subway in London, the metro system here was in no way impressive to them! And I can sympathize with my sister and brother-in-law because the London Underground and it’s maps are so easy to follow! I did my post-grad in London and was there for about a year..So I know!

Nevertheless, the subway was our official carrier for the week and took us three to so many places! I did miss my husband on those days, who was of course working hard, at work! First, we went to Bryant park. This was my second time here. I had once before been to the park with my husband and friends last winter. And that was in the evening. This was my first visit to Bryant Park during the day. And needless to say, it was so beautiful, lush and green! We didn’t sit around much as there were lots more on the agenda, lots more places to visit that is. The Bryant park has a gorgeous fountain, many chairs and tables strewn about for visitors and tourists, a reading area and a corner for keen chess players! Although we were there for barely ten minutes or so, it was worth the visit..

Next we head out to the Grand Central Terminal! I have come to learn that this station has even once been mentioned as ‘the world’s loveliest station’!! The station is grand and big for sure! Towards the entrance, there is the beautiful, four-faced, iconic clock on top of the information booth. And the astronomical ceiling is interesting too, depicting various constellations! We walked out of the station to find a beautiful, very tall, brown building with lovely moldings. Architecture appeals to me in a great way, like any other form of art!

Next we head out tooo….Central park!! I was just browsing online now to see where Central park stands amongst the list of parks worldwide with respect to size or area. And I just found out that there are several, several more parks around the globe, all the more bigger!!! Wow! Anyways. When we went to Central park, we didn’t have an exact point in mind to begin with. Central park is huge and it is important to know exactly where one wants to visit, so as to enter the park at the right gate and not otherwise end up walking needlessly for what can seem like a long time! But nevertheless, we were assisted by the the maps located at different points in the park and first went to the ‘Turtle Pond’! I just remembered now. I did see a dream the other night about big green turtles!! Interesting…Sorry about that disturbing disclosure! Coming back, it was wonderful seeing those tiny little turtles. Some were chilling on a few rocks. Some chilling and paddling away. Saw some cute baby turtles too! That was fun! After the turtle pond, we moved on to the Belvedere Castle. I had no idea until then that there is a castle in the midst of this big park! Strangely, the tower looked sort of European while the lovely canopy nearby looked oriental. We even got a beautiful view of the wide-spanning park..

Next stop was legendary Times Square. Now when I’m typing about Times Square, I find myself recollecting the visit to Piccadilly Circus at lovely London. But Times Square is a little different. Here it seems perhaps, a little more vibrant! Lights everywhere!! Color!!  Huge screens and billboards!! Bustling crowds everywhere! People clicking photos with those dressed up as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Spiderman, Statue of Liberty,..It’s another kind of feeling at the Times Square. I don’t think I can ever get enough of going to Times Square. It’s special..

And then came our first meal in New York! It was time for dinner. And we were in the mood for New York’s best hot dogs!! Now in the past, I’ve been to Gray’s Papaya in the upper west side and I clearly remember loving the hot dogs there! I had the Recession Special and a drink of coconut champagne, both of which were fabulous!! But my brother-in-law had Papaya King on his list of restaurants to visit. So off we went there and ordered some of it’s specialties.  My first hot dog was aptly called the ‘Homerun’. A typical New York hot dog with onions and kraut. This was nice but I felt Gray’s Papaya had a little extra something! I think Gray’s dogs were cooked perfect, with a nice crunchy exterior. My next hot dog was what I was more fond of. I went next for the ‘Onion Crunch’. Now that was really nice! I did enjoy the extra crunch and oh, this time also I went for the coconut champagne drink. Didn’t disappoint me at all! Was refreshingly good! My sister and brother-in-law experimented with other hot dog specialties like the ‘Jumbo Sausage with Onions, Peppers and Chili’. They really enjoyed their hot dogs! We even ordered sides of curly fries and onion rings. I remember being very fond of the curly fries!! The curly fries are also renowned an item on the Papaya King menu. At the end of it all, I think my vote still goes for Gray’s Papaya!

Another new day! Bright and sunny! It was time to hit the lower west side of Manhattan! We started off the day with Greenwich Village. Our first stop was Washington Square Park. This is yet again, another beautiful park. If I have to compare, of all the parks I had been to so far, I think I would most prefer going to Bryant Park again. But that isn’t to say this park is not lovely in it’s own way. We sat for sometime. Watched the many breeds of dogs running around. I even saw two ladies walking with two strollers, each with four seats, for a total of eight babies! Parks surely are the place for ‘cute dog’ watching as well as ‘cute baby’ watching!! It’s always a nice sight..And then it was time for lunch! We had earlier decided on visiting Little Italy, as it was quite close to Greenwich Village in terms of distance. This was my first time to Little Italy as well. I find it so incredible how one can experience a certain culture in another foreign land! Like when one visits Little India in Journal Square, Jersey city, it actually feels like being in India, with the many restaurants serving Indo-Chinese food to dosas and idlis, little cramped up shops selling saris and lehengas, and a few gurudwaras or mandirs here and there! Or even take for instance, Chinatown in Manhattan. Bubble tea, exotic fruits like durian, the many, again cramped up eat-outs with displays of crispy Peking duck,..It’s all there for the complete cultural experience! And when one is in Little Italy, one must have some original, authentic thin crust pizza!! Now that I’m in Cross Fit, I’m not sure when I’ll have my next pizza, thanks to the Paleo diet advocated by the program! But I now realize, pizza is an indulgence with the amount of bread, butter and cheese involved! Truly the words from my ever-favorite sitcom ‘Friends’ holds true with regards to the comfort food – “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips!!” But anyhow, that afternoon, my sister, brother-in-law and I went to check out Lombardi’s! Now Lombardi’s reportedly has the prestigious title of being ‘America’s first pizzeria’, having been established in the year 1897! That’s over a hundred years old! How fascinating is that??!! As soon as we reached, we got a table. There was no wait line, thankfully! We were led to this dimly lit room with about ten tables, covered in cute red and white plaid. While waiting to order, we glanced at our neighboring tables and caught sight of probably what seemed like the largest pizzas I’ve ever seen, served on huge silver pie stands, shared by a couple, or being eaten up by just one individual! Well, finally, after much confusion on what to order, we went for the large, original 18″ pizza, with fresh mozzarella, a lovely tomato sauce, Romano cheese and fresh basil! For the extra toppings, we added sweet Italian sausage, meatballs, Kalamata olives and fresh wild mushrooms. Another interesting item on the menu was the clam pie, which after researching on Yelp, I found out was high on demand with customers! I hope to try that out someday..But coming back to our order, the pizza arrived in about 20 minutes. And yes, definitely, was one of the best pizzas I have ever devoured!! The pizza had a crunchy, smoky crust, while the interior was so thin, that the pizza slice could barely be held in one piece! Which led us to have the pizza in true New Yorker style –  folding the slice in half, eating and relishing! The ingredients seemed very fresh. And being a big fan of cheese, I really appreciated the slightly sharp taste and endless stringiness of the cheese atop the slices!

After that delightful lunch, the three of us strolled around Little Italy. The brick walls of some of the buildings were adorned with beautiful artwork/ graffiti. That was a pleasant sight for me! And then miraculously, we stumbled upon a little Christmas store, which also sold the Italian version of ice cream, gelato. God knew we needed some dessert to quench our sweet cravings! So we shared a chocolate flavored gelato. A stop for ice cream is always welcome! That completed our trip around Little Italy. And close by, since there was Chinatown, we thought just for the sake of it, we’d go there for a quick stroll. I tried persuading my sister and brother-in-law to experience the wonderful comfort in drinking bubble tea, as they hadn’t tried it before. My appetite, what my husband describes as a vast and endless ‘black hole’, was raring to eat/drink more! Of course, that’s not the case with individuals having a ‘normal’ appetite! So my sister and brother-in-law declined the idea!

We left Little Italy and then made our way to the super-posh neighborhood of Tribeca. A very similar experience to walking around Greenwich village. The roads were lined with several brownstone buildings, with beautiful, ornate wrought iron stairway rails at their entrances. Since it was spring, some even had beautiful, brightly-colored flowers by the entrances and lovely creepers climbing up the walls of these many brownstones. We walked and walked, eventually passing by the Greenwich Hotel. I didn’t know anything about this hotel, until my brother-in-law shared with me the information of how celebrities chose to stay here. And when I mean celebrities, I mean Tom Cruise! Interestingly, as we saw the hotel, we also saw a bunch of paparazzi crowding by the entrance. We thought this was our big moment to catch a superstar in the flesh, and that too, at a stone’s throw away! We hung around, waiting patiently for almost half an hour, while more passers-by also got the hint and stopped by to hopefully catch sight of a celeb. Finally, Lea Michele of ‘Glee’ fame emerged! The three of us were quite disappointed, as none of us follow the show. However, it was a nice experience of just being amidst a crowd, with several shutterbugs clicking away, the paparazzi calling out to the star and asking him or her to give a million-dollar smile or to strike a pose, and then watch the big name take off in a shiny black SUV like one of my all-time favorites. the Cadillac Escalade. ‘Glee’ may not be one of our favorite shows, but ‘Sopranos’ is THE show for my brother-in-law! The ardent fan in him wanted to visit the 429 condominium on Greenwich Street, where the popular actor on the show, James Gandolfini, used to stay.

After that starry visit, the three of us walked by the Hudson river, en route to see the 9/11 Memorial. I don’t think I can put it down in words, but there was a feeling of solace, standing by the lovely structure, reading the many names etched onto the parapet walls containing the flowing water. It is a fitting and beautiful memorial. As lovely as the Empty Sky memorial in the Liberty State Park of Jersey City..

Day three of exploring New York city! First stop was the Rockefeller Center. And oh yes, we decided to head to the ‘Top of the Rock’! This was my first time at the observation deck. Neither had I been to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The weather that day was not the best with clear skies. But it was still not too bad. Before the appointed time to get to the observation deck, we had a little time on our hands. So we walked around the plaza and saw the cafe outdoors. There were lovely fountains with again, flowers in the most brightest of hues. And of course, there were stunning, high-end stores like Longchamp on either side of the fountains. We finally made a move for the observation deck. I was very amused with the high-speed elevator, that had audio, light and image displays on the transparent ceiling, and took us all the way up to the 70th floor, in about 50 second! When we got off the lift, the view was surely memorable! As I said earlier, it was not the most clearest day but we could see it all. The Empire State Building, Central Park, Chrysler Building..All the landmarks! That was quite an experience!

Lunchtime! Another eatery on my brother-in-law’s agenda, was the Smoke Joint in Brooklyn. This place is popular for barbecue and was featured on the TV show ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’. But despite all the hype and media attention, I found the food here to be quite mediocre, quite ordinary. I had the chopped barbecue chicken, while my sister ordered the crispy catfish sandwich. And my brother-in-law had the pulled pork sandwich. We also ordered sides of Brooklyn wings, mac and cheese, and some spicy French fries. I’d say, out of all that we ordered, I’d give some credibility to the Smoke Joint for it’s mac and cheese. Everything else was simply forgettable..

Since we were in Brooklyn, we decided to go thereafter to the very lovely Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Now here I’ve been before once, with my husband. And I loved it! The gorgeous peonies in white, yellows and pinks. The sprawling, lush, green property. The cherry esplanade. The serene Japanese hill and pond garden, with the many Koi fish. The garden shop with interesting merchandise. I was equally excited with my second visit here! And my sister and brother-in-law quite enjoyed the visit too!

From there, we went to and strolled around Brooklyn Heights, which is another residential neighborhood with several brownstones. Brownstones are sure charming! I’d love to stay in one, if it were maybe not so narrow and small in terms of space in the individual apartments. Anyhow, after the light stroll, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We decided on walking the Brooklyn Bridge! Brooklyn bridge is huge!! It took us approximately 45 minutes or even more to complete the entire walk. And we weren’t strolling. Eventually we just wanted to get done with it, as the bridge was never-ending and our legs and feet began to hurt! It was funny when my brother-in-law exclaimed that he was experiencing a new medical condition which he termed ‘Brooklyn feet’, where he felt that when he would get back home after the long walk, his feet would probably come off along with his shoes!! I’m actually laughing to myself as I type this now, reminiscing that day!! But even so, Brooklyn bridge is special with it’s wonderful views of Manhattan. Love the wooden walkway and the many padlocks, aka ‘love locks’, attached to the span! (I hope those love locks remain on the bridge, as there’s something endearing about them.) The bridge has an old charm and looks quite majestic!

Sadly, the trip was coming to an end. My sister and brother-in-law were going to leave soon. But we had one more day of fun! And fabulous food! We went to the very legendary, Katz’s Deli in New York. On Yelp, this place has over 4000 reviews and still has a four star rating, which is pretty impressive! And the sandwich I ate there, did not fail one bit. Absolutely lived up to expectations! I had the traditional pastrami sandwich on rye. The sandwich was exploding with slices of meat! And beautifully cooked, smoked, juicy meat at that! One has to eat it, taste it, to really believe it! The deli is packed, even on a weekday! There are dozens of tables and benches, with a long queue of customers! That’s how popular Katz’s is! It’s like a must-visit if one plans to come to New York on a holiday! If you visit the website, you even see a list of big names who have been to Katz’s, from actor Bruce Willis to former vice president Al Gore. Some films were even shot here! I actually saw the table where Meg Ryan sat, during the shoot of the popular 80’s rom-com, ‘When Harry met Sally’!

Later in the evening, my husband joined us three for dinner. And we all went to the Filipino restaurant called Maharlika situated in the East Village. Maharlika’s menu is sort of this fusion between American and Filipino food. It’s a cute little place with tasteful decor. I still remember the young lad who waited on us that evening, was rather knowledgeable about the entire menu and what we certainly had to try out. We started off with the ‘sisig’. Now what is sisig? Hand chopped pork belly, cheek, ears, snout in a skillet with egg, with a side of garlic rice!! The most I’ve been adventurous in the past, was when I had frog legs. But this was rather a bold choice of order for me! As I cautiously tasted this new item, I found myself quite liking it. We all were fond of it! Most of the food we had that evening was on the sweeter side of taste. For starters, we also had almost cigarette-thin, long spring rolls. For the main course, we had the highly sought-after ube waffles with batterless fried chicken. And those waffles were made with purple yam! How interesting an ingredient for waffles?! I loved both the waffles and the chicken! The chicken was excellent! We also ordered the stuffed squid, which was another exquisite item! It tasted marvelously good! There was also pork adobo. That too was fabulous! The adobo was not just sweet, but a little sour. Very nice! Even the garlic rice was heavenly! It was my first experience ever at a Filipino restaurant and I’ll even add and say that it was a wonderful experience! The night came to an end with heavy showers! So much rain, that the four of us caught a yellow cab and got back to Jersey, back home..

I had so much fun with my sister and brother-in-law. But it was time to bid them adieu. And I’m so hoping they will come back soon again, to visit me and my husband..

Later that weekend, my husband and I went for mass, where we meet our friends, another couple as well. After mass, the four of us decided to head to Chinatown for a light lunch. And so, we went to Joe’s Shanghai, another highly rated restaurant on Yelp, and another must-visit in New York!  Joe’s Shanghai is famous for soup dumplings. The first time my husband and I came here, the dumplings were piping hot and fresh. This time around, I don’t think they were made then and there. But the soup dumplings were still delightful! They have a pork and crab meat filling, with a lovely broth, that explodes as you bite the dumpling! It’s a fun experience, and surely a yummy one! We also had the shredded turnip shortcake, which I was very fond of! It was like a savory pastry puff, with a nice, flaky crust. I wasn’t completely raving about the scallion pancakes. They were nice but not great in my opinion. And I found them a tad bit bit too greasy for my liking. But the dumplings and turnip shortcakes here are a must-try! And what else must, must one have in Chinatown? Why, of course, bubble tea!! I love everything about bubble tea! But only the chilled ones!! I’ve tried a warm bubble tea. Was not a fan, at all! But this time, my husband and I shared a chilled, regular bubble milk tea from Vivi in Chinatown. Was so soothing!

After having the bubble tea, our friends made their way back home, while my husband and I decided to visit Coney Island! It was our first trip to the place. We got down at Brighton Beach and  walked all the way, onto the boardwalk. It looked like a paradise for anyone who wanted to experience so many different rides and foods!! It all looked like so much fun! My husband and I didn’t go on any of the rides. Yet, we had much fun seeing others go on the most outrageous ones like the ‘Flying Man’ ride, the ‘Slingshot’, amongst many others. The weather was perfect that day. Coney Island is a nice place to visit, chill, relax and be so very laid-back! So many different sights. We saw men showcasing their exotic pets like pythons and iguanas. And we also caught sight of a chic woman, with two huge dogs of the chow chow breed! After all the walking, my husband and I had an early dinner at Nathan’s Famous. That afternoon, I spoke to my sister after she flew back and reached London. And on hearing that my husband and I were at Coney, my brother-in-law messaged me saying that I had to try out the hot dogs of Nathan’s! And their bacon with cheese fries too! We had the hot dogs, one with chili and the other with sauerkraut. I was more fond of the one with chili, while my husband was a bit more fond of the sauerkraut. But we both agreed that the dogs were cooked perfectly! I’d even say that the dogs here, were even better than Gray’s Papaya’s. The fries were nice, but eventually felt like an overdose! I had a great afternoon with my husband, just strolling around, and taking it slow..As always, wonderful..

That was the big end to my big week of fun in New York and beyond! But it’s just the beginning of more fun visits to the city, exploring new cuisines, new places, new neighborhoods. More fun adventures, another day! Till next time!

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