Sightseeing

Long weekend in the city that never sleeps

When I came back from my NYC trip over the Christmas long weekend, I booked my flight back for the Easter long weekend. This is so that I could watch the Spring Spectacular show. This time my flights were with Porter Airlines for $284.16 CAD.
What I have finally learnt after 12 years of traveling is that I really should check my flight status before heading to the airport. Porter had delayed all of their flights due to the rain. I had checked my flight status last night (about 12 hours before departure) and it said that it was on time however I was in a rush this morning so I didn’t check, nor did my phone notify me of Porter’s delayed flight email. Granted the email was sent after I was on the TTC. It’s much easier to get to Porter than Pearson since you can easily take the TTC. I just went to Union station and took the 509 streetcar, got off at Bathurst St. and walked towards the airport ferry terminal where I waited to board the ferry. The ferry is mainly standing room with some benches along the side. It’s a really short ferry ride. After disembarking, you walk for a bit before reaching the check in counters and kiosks. Security is a breeze since you just have to go through the bag scanning and then you go down the escalators to the lounge. The complementary cafe with Starbucks Pike Roast coffee, Tazo teas, bottled water, soft drinks, salted almonds and chocolate cookies is hidden in the corner near the escalators and after the Billy Bishop cafe. There is free internet at the airport so the flight delay wasn’t tediously boring. On the flight itself, I got a bag of Terra vegetable chips and a glass of red wine (Porter offers cookies, almonds, Steamwhistle, white wine, juice, bottled water and soft drinks as well). It was nice of Porter to give you the US Customs form to fill out first before providing refreshments. After disembarking, I thought it was a breeze going through US Customs in which the only annoying part was the slow moving line up. Granted it may have been a breeze because my information is already in their system so I don’t need to have my fingerprints or retina scanned unlike many travellers before me. It wasn’t too hard to find the Sky Train and there was a kiosk located before the escalators to the sky train platform selling NJ Transit tickets and two employees to help you use the kiosk. I bought an adult one way ticket from Newark International Airport to NY Penn station ($12.50 USD). At the sky train platform, you want to take the train heading towards Terminal C in order to get to the NJ train station. After reaching the NJ train station, you have to walk for abit and then scan your ticket in order to go onto the train platform and you should ensure that you’re on the right platform and boarding the correct train. On the train, the conductor will come and take your ticket. Do ensure that you get off at your correct stop since the stop announcements can be very faint and at times it may be near impossible to double back. After reaching NY Penn station which is located near Madison Square Garden, I went to the metro station and used the kiosk to buy a 7 day unlimited pass (choose add time option in order to see the unlimited pass options) for $31 USD. I took the metro to Queen’s to drop off my bags before taking the metro to Radio City Music Hall.
I had bought a front row first mezzanine ticket ($199.17 CAD) for the Spring Spectacular which allows me to use the VIP entrance which is on 50th Ave off 6th Ave and it’s basically the gold doors. I had arrived abit early and so there wasn’t any line up at the VIP doors. I got my ticket scanned and bag checked before being given a Chase Interactive bracelet and I was told to wear it during the show. I was again given a pair of 3D glasses and the program before entering the theatre. I had chosen seat A408 and it is basically center stage and in the middle of the width of the entire theatre. The only bad thing about it is that there’s a video camera mounted in front of me so there’s a tiny bit of stage obstruction. The dress code for the show is casual, similar to the Christmas Spectacular.
View from my seat
The Spring Spectacular is a Rockettes show about NYC and it features Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, among others. The show opens with the orchestra making an appearance along with the Easter bunny and a minion from Despicable Me! It then cuts to a scene that’s very reminiscent of the opening scene of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The voice of God and the Statue of Liberty is Whoopi Goldberg while Derek Hough is the guardian angel. We’re then introduced to the other important main and supporting characters (Bernie the tour guide, Jenna the billionaire and her assistant Marshall). The Chase interactive bracelet comes into play with Derek Hough. He would snap his fingers and the bracelets would light up and change colours. It’s abit reminiscent of a music concert. The 3D glasses are used for a semi-guided tour of NYC before the scene cuts to the MET followed by the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. My favourite number of the entire show is the Singing in the Rain tap dance number. It features the Rockettes in yellow raincoats and high heel rainboots with umbrellas tap dancing with the water sprinklers creating an indoor rain effect above them. Singing in the rain is being sung by Derek Hough which suits it perfectly with the indoor rain and dancing happening on stage and Jared Grimes is an amazing tap dancer. It then cuts into a movie montage of films filmed in NYC including when Harry Met Sally, Home Alone 2, Annie feat Cameron Diaz, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc. which leads into the Broadway segment followed by the New York fashion show segment which is a close second in terms of my favourite moments in the show. The New York fashion show features the Rockettes strutting their stuff on the runway to the tunes of Beyonce, Jessie J and Demi Lovato to name afew artists. It’s followed up with an engaging sports montage to hockey, basketball, football and baseball. We’re then whisked to the New York library on 5th Ave for a quiz show before heading to the Empire State Building where a couple dances while being suspended in the air. There is a video montage of Americans and immigrants in a nod to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before the show wraps up with the Rockettes dancing on stage. The show is 1.5 hours long. For the Christmas spectacular, there were live animals in the show (sheep for the birth of Christ scene) and it is similar for the Spring Spectacular, there were a variety of dogs being walked across the stage or let loose to run across the stage. Overall, I recommend watching the Spring Spectacular when you’re in New York and the Radio City Music Hall is performing it.
After the show, I took the metro to have a late dinner at Max Brenner. Afterwards I headed back to Queen’s to sleep.
Here’s the link to my pictures for my trip
Due to the construction going on on the yellow NQR line I made a stop at Grand Central Station to see the constellations in the main concourse. The Sky Ceiling is worth the hype since it’s the depiction of the constellations above NYC in the wintertime and the constellations are lit by fiber optic light emitting cables with 59 stars surrounded by 24 karat gold. The brightness of the stars themselves reflect the star’s intensity in reality if you could see the stars in the night sky. The main concourse itself is also quite spectacular in its own way with gold and nickel plated chandeliers, Tennessee marble flooring, high windows allowing the natural sunlight to filter in and the brass clock at the central kiosk in the middle of the concourse. Grand Central Station is in the middle of Park Ave. After I finished admiring the Sky Ceiling I continue onwards on the metro to Wall Street. Once I was at Wall Street, I first went to visit Trinity Church. Trinity Church is built in the neo-Gothic style and is from 1846. The front doors feature biblical scenes. After my tour of Trinity Church, I went in search of the Wall St. bull. I had forgotten to visit the Wall St bull the last time I was here. Contrary to what you may think, the Wall St bull isn’t located at Wall St but it’s very close to Battery Park and the National Museum of the American Indian. It’s crowded with people so you’re unlikely to get a shot of the bull without other people in it. I then went to the National Museum of the American Indian. It’s free admission and you go through a security check at the entrance. The architecture is in the Beaux Arts style and it used to the US Customs House. The museum is also part of the Smithsonian Institution. There were 2 exhibition halls when I was there and they don’t allow photography inside the exhibition halls. The first exhibit was of the jewelry making of the Navajo tribe’s Yazzie family. The other is about the artifacts of Native Americans. The rotunda reminds me of being on a ship due to its elliptical shape and it’s aptly filled with naval artwork. I then went to have lunch at Shake Shack.
After lunch I went to City Hall Park. The park is surrounded by a variety of famous buildings in a variety of architectural styles. City Hall Park contains city hall which is surrounded by fences and high trees so you can’t get a clear shot of the building if you want a picture without tree branches. The City Hall building is in the style of French Renaissance and is from 1812. It took 9 years to build and Abraham Lincoln was laid in state there. Woolworth Building is one of the buildings surrounding the park. It’s built for a nickel and dime empire in 1913 and the architectural style is neo-Gothic and is one of the early skyscrapers of NYC. An interesting tidbit is that F.W. Woolworth paid cash for the building. The Municipal Building is just north of the park on the way to Foley Square. The Municipal Building is colossal in size with a variety of architectural influences including Classical and Italian Renaissance and the building is from 1915. What I found most interesting about it is the arches in the building that allow traffic to go through the building. I then went to Foley Square. Foley Square used to be a swamp and back in the 19th century it was a notorious slum known as Five Points. it is now a roundabout with artwork in the middle. The buildings that surround Foley Square include the NY State Supreme Court Building from 1913 and the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse from 1932. The Supreme Court has a prettier facade of the two. I then went to St Paul’s Chapel. The furnishings inside are very simple and reminiscent of the olden times. The colour scheme is white, blue and pink. George Washington used to attend mass at St Paul’s Chapel.
I then took the metro to Union Square and explored a part of the Greenmarket. It’s the city’s largest farmer’s market and it sells a variety of things. I then went to President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace and childhood home at 28 East 20th Street and wandered around the museum and signed up for the tour (the 3pm one was fully booked so I had to go to the 4pm one). I then walked to Madison Square Park to take pictures of the Flatiron building. The Flatiron building is one of the more interesting buildings in NYC. It’s triangular in shape like a slice of pie at the intersection of Broadway and 5th Ave. It’s from 1902 and built with limestone and terra cotta rather than iron like the name would suggest and the name flatiron is actually the name of a laundry appliance which the building somehow resembles. It’s a 21 story building that’s one of the early skyscrapers which is only 6 feet across at the building’s tip. Other buildings around Madison Square Park that caught my eye include the MetLife Building and the New York Life Building.
I then went back to the Theodore Roosevelt home for the 4pm tour. It’s interesting to note that the main entrance to the home and museum is actually the servant entrance and the basement is the servants’ domain to do chores and where the kitchen was located. The second floor is where the dining room, reading room and parlour was located, along with the guests and family’s entrance. By the front entrance is a mirror stand where a calling card bucket was located to leave mail and messages since they didn’t even have telephones back then. The rooms were all period rooms with the original wallpapers, carpeting and furnishings. The reading room was quite dark and sombre. The dining room is the entire width of the house and there is a semi-discreet door at the side that contains the pulley elevator that is used to bring food and dishes up and down between the kitchen and dining room. We were then lead up another flight of stairs to the bedrooms. The bedrooms on the 3rd floor is the governess’ room which also features the crib where the babies would have initially slept in and the master bedroom. The wallpaper of the governess’ room actually had to be hand-painted every single time before it was printed or stamped onto the paper. The master bedroom features a matching bedroom set that costs $42,000 in present value to buy back in the mid 1800s. The 4th floor would be the children’s bedrooms but is now offices. The original house was destroyed and then reconstructed. It was initially destroyed because nobody wanted to buy it. Then Theodore Roosevelt passed away and it was bought back to be converted to a memorial house. Roosevelt’s family provided many of the original furnishings in the house.
After the tour, I went back to Union Square and explored the rest of the Greenmarket before taking the metro to have dinner at Takashi. While I waited, I walked around Greenwich Village to admire it’s architecture. Greenwich Village is famed for being the home to a variety of writers, painters and entertainers. 48 Commerce St used to be the home of dry goods merchant Alexander Stewart. There is a working gas lamp in front of it. Very close to it is Cherry Lane Theatre. It started out as a box factory back in 1817 before being converted into a playhouse in 1924 by Edna St. Vincent Millay who was a writer and poet. Cherry Lane Theatre is also famous for Lee Strasberg directing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, of Great Gatsby fame, only published play titled The Vegetable in 1929. Across the street is 39-41 Commerce St. which are a pair of 3-story houses that mirror one another and are an example of early 19th century architecture in the neighbourhood from 1832. I then meandered my way to St. Luke in the Fields church. It used to be part of the Trinity Church Parish and the church itself is a reconstruction of the original which got burnt in 1981. An interesting fact to note is that one of the founders of the church was Clement Clarke Moore who is the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I went and explored part of the church’s garden and it has an ok view. I then went to Grove Court which used to be a slum since it was built for blue-collared families in 1853 when the area was known as “Mixed Ale Alley”. It is a gated mews with a large open courtyard that’s set back from the street. The architectural style of the mews is Greek Revival. I then went to Twin Peaks which is a 1830 house in the Tudor style compared to the surrounding 19th century architectural buildings. 107-115 Bedford St. is just down the road from Twin Peaks and they’re mid-1800s Greek Revival townhouses. 107 Bedford features very nice crescent moon window shutters. I then went past 17 Grove St which is an 1822 wood-framed house and it’s one of the last ones in the neighbourhood. I then strolled along the West Bleecker Street shopping district which has varied boutique shops and it also has a Burberry storefront. I then went back to Takashi for dinner. After dinner, I took the metro to Times Square to wander around the Toys R Us store because I had read that it would be closing down soon and I wanted to see the indoor ferris wheel, Jurassic Park dinosaur, lego minitures of famous NYC landmarks, superheros suspended from the ceiling and the Star Wars characters. It was a pleasant surprise to see a life-sized minion there as well. Afterwards I went to Rockefeller Center but Nintendo World which has a Pokemon section was already closed. Ice skating was still ongoing at the Rockefeller Rink which I found interesting since I had initially expected it to be over. The “entrance way” during Christmas and New Year’s to the Rink had changed it’s theme to Easter/Spring and it was a very whimsical floral display featuring an Easter bunny that reminded me of a circus seal or performing seal balancing a ball on its nose and mermen statues. I then headed to Queen’s to sleep.
I took the metro and walked to St. John the Divine Cathedral for Easter Mass which was presided by the Bishop of New York. The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the world’s largest Gothic style cathedral. Similar to the Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona, Spain, it will take a long time to be completed. In 1887 the land was purchased with the cornerstone laid in 1892. Construction stopped when World War II started and continued in 1979. It is currently still unfinished and there is a debate about whether it would be fully completed. The cathedral is home to numerous artistic treasures including the Barberini Tapestries which depict scenes from the life of Christ and the gold triptych by Keith Haring. The rose window is the largest in the US while it’s the fifth largest in the world. The rose window is comprised of 10,000 pieces of coloured glass which is above the two bronze doors that are only open twice a year (Easter and Feast of St. Francis). The 3-ton bronze doors depict scenes from the Old Testament on the left and the New Testament on the right. There is a stone statue parapet that features a famous figure representing that particular century due to their historical contributions. The statues include St. Paul, William Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein. The cathedral has thematic chapels which are dedicated to poetry, medicine, law, sports and firefighting to name a few. The stain glass windows of the cathedral are both traditional and untraditional. It’s traditional in the fact that it depicts Biblical scenes however it’s untraditional in the fact that it includes modern imagery. The Peace Fountain outside depicts Michael the archangel embracing one of the nine giraffes after his defeat of Satan as featured by his decapitated head and standing on a crab. The spiral base represents the double helix of DNA. There is also an image of a lion lying on a lamb which is below the depiction of the sun and on the opposite side is the moon. The fountain is surrounded by bronze-casted animal sculptures drawn by children.
After mass and my tour of the cathedral I took the metro to Columbus Square and walked the width of Central Park to the Plaza Hotel for brunch at Lady M. Afterwards I debated between going to Library Way or heading towards the airport and decided that I rather be early than miss my flight so I took the metro to Penn Station before finding the NJ Transit kiosks (after the Amtrak kiosks) to purchase my one way adult NY Penn to Newark International Airport ticket for $12.50 USD. I had just missed the train so I sat in the waiting area. The train is on track 8 which is just down the escalator which is right across the NJ Transit kiosks. I sat on the top floor of the double decker train and the view is quite industrial and dreary and polluted looking. I was lucky to have the foresight to arrive earlier at the airport because the skytrain decided to confuse everybody with it’s zigzag way of operating. You’d think that a train would stop sequentially rather than you needing to cross the platform to the other train to continue your journey since your original train will be doubling back to the previous station. When I arrived at Terminal B I asked the Porter check in counters if it was possible to be put on an earlier flight since it’s free of charge to do so at Newark and I was told that they were all fully booked and I should have came earlier for the slight off chance that it wasn’t fully booked. After going through the security check which now involves scanning your bags, coats and shoes as well as scanning yourself either in socks or barefoot, I went in search of the Porter lounge for the wifi and Tazo teas. On board the flight I got the Canadian Customs form to fill out and I got the Terra vegetable chips again and this time I got a can of Steamwhistle beer. Once I disembarked, I had to go through customs which wasn’t too bad aside from the line up for Canadians. Then I took the ferry before taking the shuttle bus which drops you off at the Starbucks near Fairmont Royal York and Union station on Front Street.

Categories: New York City, Sightseeing, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend in NYC


Here are my photos for the day
We took the metro fairly early in the morning all the way down to Battery Park to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had to go inside to the middle of the circular building to Ticket Window 4 for the NYC Day Pass ticket redemption. There is a security check before embarking on the ferry and it’s the most similar to an airport security check compared to the ones at the observation decks or museums. It didn’t take us too long to get onto the ferry even with what I thought was a fairly long line up at 9am. There are spectacular shots of downtown NYC, Ellis Island, New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty from the ferry. The ferry does a one way circular loop of Battery Park to Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island to Battery Park. We first disembarked at the Statue of Liberty to take pictures. After taking our fill of pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the scenic view of downtown NYC we lined up for the ferry to Ellis Island. Ellis Island is now an Immigration museum with 3 floors of exhibits. My friend and I explored the 1st and 2nd floor exhibits but there were way too many stairs for our tired feet to climb to get to the third floor so we decided to forgo it.

When we were exiting Battery Park, I noticed that the saying the early bird gets the worm is very accurate. The line up I thought was long was actually fairly short in comparison to the line up at 11am-noon. It was extremely long and stretched nearly all the way to the street. I wouldn’t want to be lining up in their place nor would I want to know how long it takes them to just see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. My friend and I went exploring around downtown NYC. We first went to the Frances Tavern museum. the ground floor is a restaurant while the upper levels is the museum. No pictures are allowed in the museum. There’s a replica of how the tavern used to be back in the olden days of the American Revolution era. There were alot of flags, maps and paintings of George Washington. Across the street from the Frances Tavern museum is the Pearl St Underground Tavern. You look through the Plexiglass and see the foundations of Lovelace’s Tavern which was built back in 1670 and there is a cistern from the early 18th century. We then strolled through Stone Street Historic District. It’s a 17th century cobblestone alley that’s now filled with dining and drinking establishments. I had initially thought we could eat at a restaurant located at Stone Street however all of the establishments are pricey for a luncheon or we weren’t in the mood for that particular cuisine. We then took the metro back to Row NYC so I could charge my phone and figure out where downtown Shake Shack was located. We then took the metro and walked to Shake Shack. After lunch, we took the metro to Wall St. and found out that the American Museum of Finance closed at 4pm which was when we arrived. So we continued walking along Wall St and took pictures at the George Washington statue outside of the Federal Hall National Memorial and the NYSE building. The Federal Hall National Memorial is where George Washington was inaugurated, the Bill of Rights was written and where the first Congress gathered. We continued along Wall St. to the Trinity Church which was closed for an evening event. So we went in search of the metro station and happened upon the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. The two reflection pools are where the twin towers once stood. We skipped the 9/11 Memorial Museum because of the extremely long line up.

We took the metro and walked to Takashi only to be told that we had to wait for 2-3 hours for a table so we walked back to the metro. We went back to Times Square so my friend can take photos. We then went to Madame Tussaud’s. There were wax figures of Johnny Depp, Tara Banks, Angelina and Brad, Anne Hathaway, George Clooney, sports stars including Yao Ming, Pele and Serena Williams, music stars including Prince, Jimmi Hendrix, Tupac, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys and Rihanna, famous people including Ernest Hemingway, Obama, Clintons, Bush, Nixon, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and the British Royal Family. After touring Madame Tussaud’s, we took the metro and walked to the Empire State Building. We went on the Skyride attraction after another fairly long line up. The most disappointing attraction for my entire trip is the Skyride. I had thought that it would be a 30 min. ride not a walk through of three video presentations before the ride. One of the videos detailed abit about the building of the Empire State Building which was interesting but the other video was about other famous sights of NYC and another video was regarding what Skyride was about. It also didn’t help that the video presentation areas had absolutely no seats so we were forced to be standing for a fairly long time. The Skyride itself was abit like a neurotic roller coaster video ride and at times the video is unclear. If it wasn’t included in the NYC Day Pass admissions, I wouldn’t have gone on the Skyride nor do I recommend it. After the ride was over, my friend and I took the metro back to 8th Ave and went to Shake Shack that’s near Row NYC to get takeout before heading back to Row NYC.

Here is the link to my pictures
On Sunday, we went to Discovery Times Square and got tickets for the Marvel SHIELD exhibit because my friend didn’t want to see the Body exhibit. Discovery Times Square doesn’t allow pictures inside the exhibits. We had to make an Agent ID for the Avengers exhibit and go through two debrief areas before being able to freely walk around the exhibit. It was all about the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. There was abit about the villians’ weaponry. There are alot of interactive exhibits. After we were finished walking around the exhibits, we lined up outside of Shake Shack (they weren’t open yet) so we could get brunch. The tables were all filled up by the time we got our order so we took it back to Row NYC. After eating brunch and reorganizing our bags, we waited in line for the baggage drop off. Row NYC’s express check out is that if we don’t have any tabs or bills to settle then we can just leave or utilize the baggage drop off. We probably waited an hour just to drop off our baggage. The Caucasian female standing behind us was really impatient and yelled at the employees managing the baggage drop off. They were understaffed with only four people in total managing the baggage drop off/pick up. After we dropped off our luggage, we walked to Madison Ave to take the bus to Guggenheim Museum.

Here is the link to my photos at Guggenheim and MET
The Day Pass allowed us to bypass the line outside and get our tickets fairly quickly. We took the elevator to the top of the museum and leisurely wind our way down back to the ground floor. Guggenheim doesn’t allow photographs inside aside from on the ground floor in which you just aim up at the ceiling. The Guggenheim museum is the largest of the “small” museums in NYC. It is designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and it’s a Babylonian-style “inverted ziggurat” filled with modern art by Picasso, Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani and Camille Pissaro. There was an exhibit that was 99 bottles of beer on the wall inspired as well as artwork that is inspired by vibration, light and sound. After we meandered our way down the rotunda we headed towards the MET.

The MET or Metropolitan Museum of Art is basically like an encyclopedia of world art in two buildings. It is impossible to see it all in one day. My friend and I were constrained to an hour or so to explore the museum before having to rush to the airport for our flight back. Once you enter the MET, you have to go through a security check. I went to the info desk to ask where I can get tickets using my Day Pass and the young attendant there was able to get it for me which was really nice of him. We explored part of the Medieval Art and European Sculptures and Decorative Arts galleries.

On our taxi ride to the airport, the news report mentioned the Air Asia plane disappearing between Singapore and Surubaya and I thought it wasn’t a good omen before our flight back home. Luckily we arrived safely in Toronto.

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Boxing Day in NYC


Here is the link to my photos at Top of the Rock
My friend and I woke up early today so we could walk to Rockefeller Center before 8:30am. The Top of the Rock observation deck opens at 8am and I had initially wanted to arrive by 8am but as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. There was already a line up at the door when we got there, even for the fast track aspect of the NYC Day Pass. We had to line up outside first and then when we got inside, we could go to the fast track lane which did save us some time. At the counter, we got tickets both for Top of the Rock and the Rockefeller Center tour. The first time slot for the tour was at 11:30am and it wasn’t even 9am yet! We then lined up for the elevators to the observation deck as well as going through the security screening. The elevator’s ceiling gives an illusion of the elevator passing by the floors which is nice because you’ll be looking up at it and it helps with the ear pressure of rising up or going down quickly. The views from the observation deck were phenomenal however the crowds of people weren’t. I had initially thought that more people would be shopping on Boxing Day because of the deals rather than going to attractions so The Top of the Rock would be less crowded. I was sorely mistaken! The Top of the Rock observation deck gives you an unobstructed view of Central Park, Upper East and West Side, the Empire State Building, downtown and many bridges.

Here is the link to my photos of the Radio City Music Hall tour
After we had content ourselves with the views, we went to Radio City Music Hall and were able to get the 10am tour tickets. This worked out perfectly since the Radio City Music Hall tour was an hour long so we would be able to have some time to figure out where the Rockefeller tour meeting place would be. I recommend the Radio City Music Hall tour if you’re watching a Rockettes show because it gives you alot of background and historical information and I felt that it added to my experience of watching the show later since it made me appreciate it more. Michael was our tour guide and it was an excellent and informative tour. The elevator has an unstained wooden interior with three panels depicting the arts, wine and women. In the lobby of the theatre when you first enter the theatre to watch the show, there are 2 chandeliers. The 2 chandeliers have 60 lightbulbs each and can be lowered down so it can be easily cleaned so it can maintain that glamorous shine. The Swarovski crystal Christmas tree is only for the Christmas Spectacular show. The track around the ceiling enables a swing to hang and move so that somebody can clean the walls. The mural along the staircase from the ground floor to the mezzanine level depicts a man seeking the fountain of youth. The carpet is an abstract painting of 6 instruments: guitar, banjo, sax, harp, accordion and clarinet. I’m abit surprised that it doesn’t have the piano. The tour also gives you a glimpse of the show (we got to see a sneak peak of the Christmas Spectacular because of it’s 3+ daily show schedule, you’d have to time it properly for a sneak peak of the Spring Spectacular I would presume). For the Christmas Spectacular, it has a 36 person orchestra. The theatre itself is designed to have a cruise ship or ocean liner feel and shape. There is only perfect seating since there are no obstructions (pillars, etc). The acoustics are amazing since there’s no microphone on stage and you can still hear in the nosebleed section. The stage turntable has 4 moving parts which made me appreciate the ingenuity of it when I was watching the show in the evening. Back in the 1930s the shows were less than $0.50 and you got to view a movie and a Rockettes performance. The show tickets remained extremely affordable until the 1960s. We were led into a cinema room with seats from the 1930s for a short film on the Rockette’s history. If you want to be a Rockette you need to be 5’6 – 5’10 and know how to do ballet, tap and jazz. To give the illusion of the Rockettes all being the same height, the tallest stand in the middle with the shortest at the ends with the skirts cut the same length. We were then taken to the Roxy suite which has furniture from the 1930s and are all the originals and there is a circular room with no artwork or decor because the conversation is the artwork. It has a domed ceiling so one can whisper and the people across the round table can still hear you. We then went to the costume room which has the original costumes ever worn by a Rockette. It costs between $3,000-$10,000 to make a costume so a new show has alot of upfront costs.

Here is the link to my photos during the Rockefeller Center tour
After the tour, we meander our way to Rockefeller Center and found the guided tour meeting place. It’s inside the Rockefeller Center off of the inside entrance to the lobby of Top of the Rock. The guided tour provides a listening machine since you’ll need it because the tour is mainly the artworks and building structures of the Rockefeller complex. It’s a 75 min. tour and I felt that the tour should be renamed as the artwork at Rockefeller tour. John D. Rockefeller Jr financed the construction during the Great Depression. The first tenant is Radio City A (RCA) then NBC in the building now known as Radio City Music Hall. 21 buildings covering 22 hectares make up Rockefeller Center. The art work is mainly art deco inspired by the Egyptians and Aztecs. Abby, John’s wife, was in charge of hiring the artists for the multitude of artworks decorating the center. She had wanted Picasso to contribute but he charged too much so she had to look for other similar artists instead. An interesting fact I learnt was that Abby hired a number of Communist artists. There are many depictions of light and sound to represent broadcasting scattered around the complex in a variety of styles. At the skating rink, there is Prometheus with a maiden and a youth who represents Adam and Eve. Atlas supporting the world is in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There is a mural depicting the history of flight. There’s another mural of action reaching towards thought that features Abraham Lincoln. The artist who painted that particular painting got revenge on Rockefeller with a similar painting featuring Lenin and Rockefeller gambling with diseases hanging over his head. On the ceiling of a building is past, present and future which all face you even if you look at it from three different angles. There are also 5 panels presenting people facing history and tribulation such as slavery, medicine, machinery/industrialization. The last of the 5 panels represents hope and the future. There are a number of artworks both inside and outside the buildings. There is a law that requires building set backs for lighting and air/wind so this is why buildings in NYC have that distinct look compared to other buildings in other cities. The Christmas tree has 5 miles of lights which means 40,000 lightbulbs and it’s 50% solar powered by the nearby buildings with solar panels on top. The famous skating rink was an accident. It was initially a roller blading rink that attracted gangs. There also used to be a speakeasy and the Rockefellers couldn’t reject them from the property.

After the Rockefeller tour, we initially wanted to eat lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner however there was a very long line up outside of the diner so we had lunch at TGI Friday’s instead. After lunch, we went back to Radio City Music Hall to get our Christmas Spectacular tickets since we didn’t buy it online so we had to redeem our voucher for the actual show tickets. To redeem the voucher, you need to show ID (my Canadian driver’s licensed sufficed) and the purchase receipt. I also got asked alot of questions before I was given the show tickets. After getting our show tickets, we took the metro to the Museum of Natural History.

Here is the link to my photos at the Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is really really big. You can’t fully see all the exhibits in a day. I was mislead because I was told that I could see the entire museum in 4 hours. You can probably see the museum’s highlights in 4 hours. The museum has 5 floors packed with exhibits. The top floor is the Koch Dinosaur Wing which contains the largest collection of dinosaur fossils. It has the skeleton of a T-Rex amongst other dinosaurs and the first Velociraptor skull to be found. I liked the tree diagram of how the museum classified the dinosaurs. We were able to see Lonesome George in the Astor Turret however it is now not exhibited at the museum. The second highest floor had the Easter Island head and a decent-sized collection of the artwork and culture of the Pacific and Aboriginal peoples. There was also primates, African mammals and North American birds taxidermy. On the second floor, there were displays about the art and culture of the people of Africa, Asia and Central and South Americas. There were birds and African and Asian mammal taxidermy on the second floor as well. The first floor has a variety of exhibits but the ones that stood out the most is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, the Hall of Biodiversity, geology and Northwest Coast Indians. The North American mammals exhibit reminds me of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The Milstein Hall of Ocean features dioramas of different oceanic habitats and there’s a blue whale hanging overhead from the ceiling. For geology, there’s the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems which features the Star of India which is the biggest sapphire in the world at 563 carat, Chrysoberyl Cat’s Eye at 85 carats, De Long Star Ruby at 100 carats and the Midnight Star at 116.75 carats. There is also a 34 ton meteorite rumoured to be a fragment of a massive meteorite in the Ross Hall of Meteorites which is on the way to the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems. My friend and I had watched or rewatched in my case the movie Night at the Museum and the movie set and the actual museum layout were completely different which shocked me slightly since I was expecting it to be the same. I also couldn’t find the Aztec, Roman and Western civilization dioramas so I was abit disappointed. We stayed until the museum announced that they were closing and capped off our visit at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall (we entered from another entrance) and took photos of the Barosaurus fossil protecting his/her child from a predator. A statue of Theodore Roosevelt is outside of the main entrance way.

After our museum exploration, we went back to Row NYC so my friend could charge her phone. We then did some shopping at Fifth Ave before going to Radio City Music Hall to watch the Christmas Spectacular. We had Orchestra seats. They were ok-not the perfect seating that was advocated to me during the tour earlier in the day since although there aren’t any obstructions caused by the building there were obstructions caused by other people. The only bad part about orchestra is if you have the dismal luck of sitting behind taller people or people with really frizzy hair or if the theatre allows photography/filming, the multitude of screens and arms and hands in the air are extremely annoying. I had that dismal luck so my lesson in this is to just splurge for front row Mezzanine seats to avoid this kind of problem again. The Christmas Spectacular is comprised of 18 numbers including the 3D Santa sleigh ride segment, the famous toy soldier cannon segment, the multiple Santa Clauses segment, the nutcrackers featuring bears segment, the bus segment, the skaters segment, the two brothers trying to find a gift for their sister segment, the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year blocks dance routine, Jesus Christ’s birth with live animals, to name afew. Although the audience in front of me partially blocked my view of the stage, it was still a spectacular show. If you’re in New York around Christmas time I recommend seeing this show at least once in your lifetime.

Here is the link to my photos at Empire State
After the show, we went to have dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It was still busy when we arrived but we didn’t have to wait long for a table. After dinner, we went back to Row NYC to pick up our phones and cameras before heading to the Empire State Building. There wasn’t a line up to get our tickets or go up the elevator or going through security this late at night. The night view of New York City is certainly another experience from the morning view of New York City. I could easily find Madison Square Garden, Chrysler building, downtown NYC and Times Square. It would probably be interesting to do the same observation deck twice in a single day – once in the morning and once late at night just to see that difference between day and night. After enjoying the night views, we took the metro back to Row NYC.

Categories: New York City, Sightseeing, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in NYC

My friend and I decided to go to New York City for Christmas long weekend. It was 3 months worth of planning because there’s tons to do in New York City so we needed to focus and conquer. We were lucky to get cheap plane tickets with Air Canada for $258.36 CAD round trip between Pearson and LaGuardia Airports. We decided to stay at Row NYC which is located on 700 8th Ave and really close to Times Square, Rockefeller Center and the Theatre District. There is a Shake Shack at 44th St W and 8th Ave that my friend and I took advantage of getting take out and eating it in our room because of the proximity and not having to wait for a table to open up. We stayed on the 22nd floor and the elevator itself is a good security measure. You have to insert your card into the card reader and press your floor and it’ll tell you which elevator to take and inside the elevators there aren’t any floor buttons. Since it’s New York City I wouldn’t have been surprised if the hotel room is as small as some of the hotel rooms in Hong Kong. Our room, while small, was laid out well-enough for the two of us to move around. The beds were soft and clean. There were ample plugs spread out around the room and enough room to put our bags and suitcases without having to pile everything on top of each other. There are blackout blinds which is nice since New York is the City of Lights. We were high up enough that I couldn’t hear any noise from the street although this may be because our window had no view which meant that it would be quiet. The hotel provides towels, shampoo/conditioner, soap and cups but no kettle so you can’t boil any water. For Christmas long weekend, the room was $976.04 CAD for three nights which is fairly reasonable considering the location albeit staying in a room with the bare essentials. We had requested to be on a higher floor, early check in and late check out and all three were fulfilled so I was quite satisfied with my stay at Row NYC, all things considered.

In terms of what my friend and I wanted to see and do in New York City, I wanted Broadway Shows and Christmas stuff while my friend wanted to go to museums. My friend was willing to go see Jersey Boys and the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular with me. Front row Mezzanine seats for Jersey Boys on Christmas Day was $229.49 CAD while Orchestra seats for Christmas Spectacular on Boxing Day was $125 CAD. We also got the New York City Day Pass for 3 days for $184.44 CAD. The New York City Day Pass gives you free admission to all the museums in New York City along with tours and other popular tourist attractions such as the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Another neat feature is the Fast Track option at several popular tourist attractions such as Top of the Rock, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Natural History, MET, Madame Tussaud’s and Discovery Times Square to name afew. The Fast Track option allows you to bypass the regular line up for faster wait times. This helped us with saving time waiting in line when visiting museums and observation decks. I recommend getting the New York City Day Pass if you are interested in visiting museums, partaking in tours and generally doing fairly touristy things. My friend and I were able to get more than our money’s worth in terms of the admission price we saved on the museums, attractions and tours we saw and did. New York City is a place where you have to focus on a certain aspect of it that you want to see if you’re only visiting. I was abit ambitious in wanting to watch afew shows, eat at really good restaurants, do afew tours and see the famous sights. I sacrificed eating at spectacular restaurants for seeing the famous sights. You really can’t have a cake and eat it too in NYC in a short period of time. I also found that planning, at least when it’s your first time there, to be quite crucial. The New York subway line at first glance is the most confusing thing I’ve ever ridden in terms of public transportation. Hong Kong, London, Singapore, Taipei and Bangkok aren’t nearly as complicated and Toronto, Waterloo and Montreal are simple things to navigate compared to the maze that is the NYC metro, at least in Manhattan. After riding the NYC metro, it actually isn’t that bad but for a newcomer it definitely takes some getting used to.

Click here for the link to more photos of my Christmas in NYC
My friend and I had a morning flight on Christmas Day and I was slightly surprised to find that there was no customs to go through at LaGuardia Airport when you exit the plane. You just exit the plane, pick up any checked luggage and catch a taxi. We took a taxi to Row NYC and were able to get early check in to our room as specified when we booked which was really nice. Once we put down our luggage and freshen up, we went to window shop Fifth Ave. The stores had their Christmas displays which I enjoyed looking at. We wandered inside Trump Tower and it was festive inside with nutcrackers posing as musicians and Christmas wreaths. The outside of St. Regis Hotel was very festive with nutcrackers and tiny Christmas trees outside their main entrance. We went inside St Patrick’s Cathedral and saw the end of mass. After window shopping and taking pictures of high end stores and their festive displays, we took the subway to Chinatown. We bought the 7 day unlimited Metropass for $31 USD. I had calculated that it would take a minimum of 11 trips to breakeven.

At Chinatown we wandered around and went inside Ten Ren’s to look at their interesting tea pot collection. We then went inside Yunhong Chopsticks Shop to look at their very decorative chopsticks and accessories. We were feeling abit peckish so we went to eat at a Hong Kong Cafe restaurant. My friend and I split the spring rolls and assorted curry fish and beef balls. I had also gotten the Hong Kong style milk tea. The food was ok, the decor evokes the feel of being in Hong Kong and the service was reminiscent of some Hong Kong Cafes in Hong Kong. After we were fully rested, my friend and I continued wandering around. We went to Columbus Park which is now across a funeral home. The location of Columbus Park is where Mulberry Bend used to be and it was the worst slum in the city. The buildings were torn down in the early 1900s aside from the Chinatown section. We then went to Chatham Square to see the Kimlau War Memorial and the Lin Ze Xu statue. The memorial is to honour Chinese American soldiers who died in World War II. Lin XeZu is a 19th century anti-opium government official and hero. The first ever story I heard about him was about Lin Xe Zu destroying opium in an attempt to rid the Chinese of their drug addiction and to curb the negative effects of opium on Chinese society. The destruction of opium lead to the Opium Wars which would lead to China ceding Hong Kong to Britain. My friend and I then walked along Doyers St which is a narrow crooked alleyway with an elbow or a sharp bend in it which makes it impossible to see who is around the corner. It used to be a site for gangs to meet up to fight it out. There is currently a famous tea shop located at the elbow since there was a crowd of people loitering around the door, waiting to be seated. We passed by the Edward Mooney House which is a red Georgian brick building and it’s the oldest row house in New York City dating back to George Washington.

The closest we were to a bridge in NYC was Manhattan bridge. It is a suspension bridge from 1905 with a Beaux Arts colonnade and arch which makes me think I’m back in Europe. We then went to explore Little Italy and while there were light signs spelling out Little Italy in the street there were Chinese stores around those signs which didn’t give me that complete Italian vibe and feel. When I visit Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy, or any ethnic enclave I have this expectation that the stores would only be selling Chinese or Indian or Italian goods and food rather than have a mish mash of cultures because it is an ethnic enclave. Little Italy itself looked very festive with lights in the shape of Christmas wreaths and we went into a store called Christmas in New York wherein it was filled with a myriad of Christmas decorations. It had a huge variety of Christmas tree ornaments, a funny selection of Christmas stockings and other paraphernalia. After window shopping at Christmas in New York, we hurried to the metro in order to make it in time for our Broadway show. We had some spare time so we went to Times Square to take pictures and made our way to August Wilson Theatre.

What I like about August Wilson Theatre is that it didn’t allow filming or photos during the show so you could fully experience and enjoy the show in the present and not be distracted by other people’s cell phone screens or cameras in the air. The front row mezzanine seats were worth splurging for because I had nobody in front of me to obstruct my view and I could fully enjoy the show. Jersey Boys is worth watching on Broadway albeit I haven’t seen the movie yet. I feel that Jersey Boys is the perfect mix of a musical and a show. There was a good mix of talking and singing so anybody who isn’t into being serenaded for 2.5 hours could still potentially enjoy watching it. I have a friend who went with me to see Les Mis when it came out in the cinemas and she wasn’t into musicals while I thought the movie would be based on the book rather than the show. If it was Jersey Boys, she may have enjoyed it more perhaps. I didn’t grow up listening to The Four Seasons or most of the 60s bands so while I heard of Big Girls Don’t Cry and afew other songs it was nice to be introduced to the band’s discography and history. For my first ever Broadway experience, it was very enjoyable and it made me want to see another Broadway show soon.

After the show my friend and I headed towards Lincoln Center because I heard that there were suppose to be spectacular Christmas decorations there. Along the way we got some food at the ubiquitous metal hotdog stands. My friend got a hot dog ($5 USD) while I got a really big pretzel ($4 USD). The pretzel was really salty so we stopped at Duane Reade Pharmacy to buy water ($1.13 USD for 1.5L sparkling water). When we arrived at Lincoln Center I was disappointed to find absolutely no Christmas decorations although it had a romantic atmosphere with the water fountain and the lights pointing at the Lincoln Center theatres reminded me of Paris. We then went to Rockefeller Plaza to see the Christmas decorations and skating rink. Normally there are three entrances to the famous skating rink and Christmas tree however they cordoned off two of the entrances so that they were only exits and there was a nice entryway wherein you walked on either sides of these trumpet playing angels and get closer to the skating rink and Christmas tree. There were nutcrackers on the side posing as musicians and all the trees had Christmas lights in the branches so it was very festive. It’s difficult to get a good shot of the rink and tree with and without yourself in the picture because of the dense crowds of people there. When the rink closes at midnight the lights on the Christmas tree turn off so while it still has a festive feel it’s not as festive looking as when the lights are on. We then headed back to Row NYC after taking more pictures of Christmas decorations on our walk back.

Categories: New York City, Sightseeing, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip to Ottawa and Montreal

My university friend and I decided to do a road trip to Ottawa and Montreal for the Victoria Day long weekend. My university friend hadn’t been to Ottawa or Montreal before while I was interested in the tulip festival. We stayed at Barefoot Hostel which another university friend had recommended to me. Barefoot Hostel is located near Byward Market and is a really cool, chill place. There’s only 2 bunk beds in each room and there’s four rooms in total for the entire hostel which are all located on the second floor. Two nights is $64. Barefoot Hostel has free wi-fi, free shampoo bottles, a hairdryer and straightener that you can borrow, a locker to lock your valuables and belongings and a nice common room with a large flat-screen TV and DVDs. The bathrooms are nice and clean. This hostel reminded me of the EDU hostel I stayed at in Yogyakarta/Jogjakarta, Indonesia. The Yogyakarta EDU hostel is a 5 star hostel if there is such a thing as a 5 star hostel. Barefoot Hostel is a 4.5 star hostel.

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Tulip Festival at Major's Hill Park

Tulip Festival at Major’s Hill Park

Tulip Festival at Major's Hill Park

Tulip Festival at Major’s Hill Park

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location of Byward Museum

location of Byward Museum

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal

Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

Tulip Festival at Parliament Hill

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a view from the double decker shuttle bus

a view from the double decker shuttle bus

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After driving from Toronto to Ottawa and checking into the hostel, we decided to walk around downtown Ottawa. We meandered through Byward Market, toured the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica and meander through Major’s Hill Park and Parliament Hill for the tulips. We walked past the Rideau Canal and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier on our way from Major’s Hill Park and Parliament Hill. The Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site. the Fairmont Chateau Laurier is part of the Canadian railway hotels. While at Parliament Hill, one of the guides told us that the tours were all full for the day and that they were open on Victoria Day. We walked down a part of Sparks Street which is classified as an outdoor pedestrian mall. We then waited for the free tulip festival shuttle bus at the corner of Elgin and Sparks Street. The shuttle bus turned out to be an open top double decker bus. The bus passed by the Ottawa City Hall and Confederation Park to drive along Queen Elizabeth Dr to reach Commissioners Park and Little Italy. Queen Elizabeth Dr is a very scenic road which follows the Rideau Canal to Dow’s Lake. We decided to first walk around Litttle Italy before having dinner at La Favorita.

Tulip Festival at Commissioners Park

Tulip Festival at Commissioners Park

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Man with 2 Hats near Dow's Lake

Man with 2 Hats near Dow’s Lake

 

 

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fireworks at Dows Lake

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After dinner, we walked back to Commissioners Park to look at the variety of tulips planted there for the tulip festival. The variety at Commissioners Park is much larger than the varieties at Major’s Hill Park and Parliament Hill. We then waited by the north side of Dow’s Lake for the firework show to start. The fireworks show was quite pretty with a nice variety of fireworks. After the fireworks ended, we walked to Preston St/Gladstone Ave to take the 14 bus back to Byward Market. The OC Transpo fare is $3.45 per person (check the OC Transpo website for the most up-to-date fare price).

wandering around Old Port

wandering around Old Port

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

inside St Patrick Basilica

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stain glass at place d'art

stain glass at place d’armes

stain glass at place d'art

stain glass at place d’armes

On Saturday morning, we drove from Ottawa to Montreal. I thought that there would be English road signs in Quebec but I was sorely mistaken. There are only French road signs in Quebec. We found cheap parking at UQAM via the Best Parking app. This particular part of the campus is close to Place des Arts metro station and downtown Montreal. A STM day pass is $10. It can be bought at the ticket booth or the electronic ticket booth. We first went to eat brunch at l’Avenue. After brunch we took the metro to walk around Old Montreal. We passed by Chateau Ramezy, Place Jacque Cartier and Bonsecours Market. We went to the Clock Tower to see if we could climb up but the door to the stairs was locked and there was a spiderweb around the door handle and wall. I had asked the parking attendent working at the Clock Tower parking lot if it was possible to climb up the Clock Tower and he said that it was possible, I was misinformed yet again. We meandered around Old Port on our way to Notre Dame Basilica, the Berlin Wall in the Centre de Commerce Mondial and St. Patrick’s Basilica. We then went to Marie Reine du Monde Cathedral in which we discovered that there was mass at 5pm. So we walked around Dorchester Square. We then took the metro to Place d’Armes to see the stain glass window effect before taking the metro to Mont Royal to meet my friend for dinner at la fabrique bistrot. I had hoped that we had time to go to Mont Royal Park before dinner but we only had 10 minutes before we had to meet my friend so we settled for walking around a part of the Plateau.

at the War Museum

at the War Museum

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Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

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On Sunday morning, we lined up for over an hour for the Parliament tour tickets. After getting the tickets, we checked out of the hostel. We then went to Shawarma Palace so we could eat brunch. After brunch, we went to the War Museum. My friend was told to go visit the Civilization Museum in Hull, Quebec. I managed to convince my friend to go to the War Museum instead. When I lived in Ottawa back in 2010 I toured the Currency Museum, Royal Canadian Mint, Cold War Museum aka Diefenbunker Museum, the Library and Archives Canada, Canadian Museum of Nature, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian War Museum, Civilization Museum and the Canadian Postal Museum. My favourite museums were the Currency Museum and the War Museum. My friend wasn’t interested in looking at money so I pushed for the War Museum. The admission price to the War Museum is $14.69. The War Museum showcases the War of 1812, the battles prior to the 1900s, Canada’s involvement in World War I, World War II and the Cold War. It also showcases some of Canada’s peacekeeping missions.

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House of Commons

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in the Library

in the Library

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Diamond Jubilee stain glass window

Diamond Jubilee stain glass window

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Senate

Senate

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at Byward Market

After touring the war museum, we went to Parliament Hill for our tour. We had to first pass through security then wait for our group. The tour took us to the House of Commons, the library and the Senate. This is my third time touring Parliament and the newest thing to the tour is the stain glass window commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Currently the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is as long as the reign of Queen Victoria’s at 63 years who is Great Britain’s longest ruling monarch, an achievement unto itself. After our tour of parliament, we went to Byward Market to get beaver tails before beginning the drive back to Toronto.

Categories: Canada, Montreal, Ottawa, Sightseeing, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona

The works of Antoni Gaudí and the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau are UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona. The works of Antoni Gaudí include Park Güell, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. Casa Batlló is inspired by the carnival. The balconies are the carnival masks and confetti. Barcelona is bounded by two rivers, a mountain range and the Mediterranean sea. There aren’t alot of parks in Barcelona so trees are planted along roads to make up for the lack of parks. This reminds me of Singapore where there are trees along the highways and flowers over the bridges. Barcelona’s city center looks more historic and is more reminiscent of Paris with the French balconies. While most streets in Barcelona run either vertical or horizontal there is a road that cuts diagonally across the city.

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Nativity Scene

Nativity Scene

top: one of the 4 Gospels You can imagine yourself in a forest

top: one of the 4 Gospels
You can imagine yourself in a forest

Multi-Lingual Our Father

Multi-Lingual Our Father

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We first went to La Sagrada Familia which is also known as the Unfinished Cathedral. The columns inside La Sagrada Familia are inspired by the local, native trees in Barcelona. There are 4 columns that depict the 4 Gospels. The stain glass windows are very avant garde in that it doesn’t depict a picture but rather it’s just pieces of coloured glasses of the same or similar hue. The effect of this is that sometimes you can easily imagine yourself to be in a forest. There is a wall that has the Our Father written in Catalan and a verse “Give us this day our daily bread” written in various languages. The Nativity scene is at the front of the church and beneath the Christmas evergreen tree. The workshops are on site and you can see through the window into the workshops. La Sagrada Familia relies on the admission fees and private donations to fund everything about the cathedral.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

 

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After touring La Sagrada Familia, we went to the Olympic Stadium to take pictures. Afterwards, we drove around Barcelona before eating lunch at Restaurante Shanghai 1930. After lunch we went to Park Güell. Gaudí lived in the model house in Park Güell. There were only three houses built. One was the model home, another was for the Güell family and the third was purchased by a family who still currently owns it. Park Güell is most iconic for its mosaic benches that are nice to sit on and for the mosaic salamander.

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After touring Park Güell, we went to Casa Mila. Casa Mila is inspired by a stone quarry. It is also known as La Pedrera. When it was first built the Mila family would live on the first few floors and rent out the space above them. Casa Mila now houses a museum dedicated to Gaudí in the attic and an apartment right below the attic that recreates bourgeois life in the early 20th century.

Fish

Fish

Goliath

Goliath

David

David

Around Las Ramblas

Around Las Ramblas

Around Las Ramblas

Around Las Ramblas

souvenir stall at Las Ramblas

souvenir stall at Las Ramblas

Arc de Triomf

Arc de Triomf

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After touring Casa Mila, we stopped by the waterfront. There is a Fish or Peix sculpture by Frank Gehry and David and Goliath sculptures by Antoni Llena. These sculptures were commissioned for the 1992 Olympics. We then leisurely walked around Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a fairly touristy promenade. There are some unique shops along it. I particularly liked the music shops along Las Ramblas. There are many stalls selling Gaudí inspired souvenirs. The Barcelona FC store is close to Las Ramblas. After walking around Las Ramblas, we went to the Spanish Arc de Triomf  before eating a mediocre dinner at Restaurant Wok Japonese Arc de Triumph. The Arc de Triomf was built as a gateway for the 1929 Expo. After dinner we went back to the hotel. Our hotel was a 10 min. walk from the FC Barcelona stadium. The next day we flew from Barcelona back to Toronto.

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Zaragoza

There are two main land routes between Madrid and Barcelona. The first is along the coast of the Mediterranean sea via Valencia. The second is landlocked via Zaragoza. We first had lunch at Las Palomas Buffet & Tapas in the old quarter or old city which is known as the Casco Viejo. Afterwards we walked across the Plaza del Pilar Square to visit the Cathedral Basilica de Noestra Senora del Pilar. The Basilica del Pilar doesn’t allow pictures inside. The Basilica del Pilar is a stunning church. It has a lot of chapels and there were two masses going on simultaneously. The pictures are 3D in that the background is painted while the people are sculptures. The frescos on the ceiling are dark. There is a really large organ and an especial area for the choir in which there are three large books with the lyrics written in it.

Basilica del Pilar

Basilica del Pilar

Basilica del Pilar

Basilica del Pilar

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Seo Cathedral

Seo Cathedral

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Around the Plaza del Pilar Square are other well-known buildings in Zaragoza. There is the San Salvador Cathedral which is also known as the Seo Cathedral. The Seo Cathedral is Mudejar architecture so it’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mudejar art and architecture is the integration of Islamic artwork and architecture and European artwork and architecture in particular the Gothic style. The San Salvador Cathedral was built over a Moorish Mosque. There is La Lonja. It is now an exhibition venue whereas it was an important civil building in the 16th century. I found the La Lonja building to be an extremely unassuming building compared to the building next to it (picture above).

 

 

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Madrid

We first went to visit El Escorial in Madrid. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside El Escorial which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. El Escorial is currently part monastery and part school. The Kings and Queens chambers have doors that are made of wood from Germany with unique depictions on each door. King Philip II’s rooms are in their original condition. There are maps of the Spanish colonies on the way to the royal chambers. The mausoleum is made of black and red marble. The chandeliers in the mausoleum are more decorative than the ones in the royal chambers. The Pantheon of the Kings is completely made of the black and red marble, the floor, ceiling and walls are all marble. The church in El Escorial is quite grand with lots of paintings and an entire wall of life-size statues behind the altar. Beneath the steps to the altar is where the mausoleum is located. From the Kings and Queens chambers, you can see the altar. This was so that King Phillip II can still listen to mass when he was bedridden. The library is on the second floor with a ceiling fresco that is modeled after the ceiling fresco at the Sistine chapel. The pages of the books in the library are lined with gold and face outward to protect the leather bound books. There are about 50,000 original books in the library. As well, in the library, above one of the two entrances, there is a painting of Philosophy surrounded by Aristotle, Plato, Seneca and Socrates. After visiting El Escorial, we had lunch at Asador La Tahora de Alburquesque. After lunch we stopped by the Real Madrid stadium before proceeding to the Plaza de Espana.

Outside of El Escorial

Outside of El Escorial

Outside of El Escorial

Outside of El Escorial

Outside of El Escorial

Outside of El Escorial

Real Madrid Stadium

Real Madrid Stadium

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

After taking pictures at the Plaza de Espana, we visited the Royal Palace of Madrid. The Royal Palace of Madrid doesn’t allow pictures either. The Royal Palace of Madrid is influenced by Versailles.  The walls in each room matches the upholstery of the chairs in each room. After visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid we went to Puerta del Sol. The official Real Madrid store is located near the Puerta del Sol.

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

Outside the Royal Palace of Madrid

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After walking around Puerta del Sol, we went to the Christopher Columbus Square. The three large rocks in the square represent the three ships that brought Christopher Columbus to the New World. After taking pictures at the Christopher Columbus Square we had dinner at the Restaurante Las Cuevas del Duque.

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus Square

Christopher Columbus Square

Categories: Madrid, Sightseeing, Spain, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toledo

We first had lunch at Alphonso VI hotel. We then walked to the Toledo Cathedral. The Toledo Cathedral is Gothic in architecture. It’s a large, very grand and very beautiful cathedral. The Toledo Cathedral has lots of organs. It also hosts an organ competition. The Treasure room is filled with works of art made from gold and silver. It is also the home of the great Processional Monstrance of Arfe. The Sacristy is filled with artwork from prominent artists such as El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian, Van Dick, Orrente, Tristan, Goya, Morales, and Jose Ramos. The al fresco on the ceiling spans the whole length and width of the ceiling. The fresco is the Descension of the Holy Virgin which is painted by Luca Giordano. There are 4 globes in the Sacristy that represent the four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas). The globes each have a different stone and animals. The Americas is the alligator and emeralds. The Transparente took my breath away. It is made by Narciso Tomé. The Transparente is comprised of a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, the relief of David and Ajimelec and the meeting of Abigail and David, Saint Leocadia and Saint Casilda, the Last Supper and Saint Eugene and Saint Ildephonsus.

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Monstrance of Arfe

fresco painting

Descension of the Holy Virgin fresco painting

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a painting by el greco is flanked by marble columns that is flanked by 2 of the 4 globes

a painting by El Greco is flanked by marble columns that is flanked by 2 of the 4 globes

Transparante

Transparente

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We then meandered our way to Santo Tomé church. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside the Santo Tomé church. The Santo Tomé church is most famous for housing The Burial of Count Orgaz painting by El Greco.

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Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The streets in the historic city of Toledo are made entirely of cobblestones and Toledo has a Jewish Quarter. An interesting fact about the historic city of Toledo is that the hydro boxes are hidden behind a fake wall facade so it makes the wall look much nicer. Spending an afternoon in Toledo is not enough time to truly explore and experience the city.

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Consuegra

We went to Consuegra for one thing, Don Quixote’s white windmills masquerading as giants. Don Quixote is a well-known Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. If possible, you should read Don Quixote before visiting Spain. Consuegra is known for its white windmills and the fortress or Castle of Consuegra which are located on a hill above the town of Consuegra. IMG_1883

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