Hello New York!

Because I was in the neighbourhood (an hour and a half is practically around the corner by American standards), I decided to go to New York for the day.  I was very proud of myself for staying awake until 23:00 after my arrival in Philadelphia, so I slept like a log and on Tuesday morning I managed to get up at 07:30, to catch my train to New York. First of all, the Philadelphia train station is fabulous. They may not be big on public transport in the US, at least they know how to hide that. The train stations look like cathedrals, and some of them have free WiFi. Eat that NS!

So at 08:30 I was on my way on the comfy train and first saw the Pennsylvanian landscape move by, then parts of New Jersey, and finally I saw the skyline of New York get closer.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many cool places already, but really, New York trumps them all. The city is just so alive, and the smells are so amazing! (it’s probably mostly pretzels and pastrami sandwiches, but still….good!). I set out to the Empire State Building first as it was quite close to Penn station, but when I found out it was $21 to get in, and there was a queue, and it was overcast and it was probably going to rain, I decided not to go in, and wander off to the Village instead. Just getting to the south of Manhattan already gives you so much to look at. At one point I found myself in a street where there were only shops selling plants (real and plastic). The highrise also made way for slightly lower building, although still buildings where you’d want a lift. And then finally, you end up in cobblestone streets with fancy houses with steps leading up to them.

So I wandered around somewhat, deliberately not checking my map too often. At one point it stopped raining softly (instead it started positively pissing it down) and there were a few strong gusts of wind, making it very cold all of a sudden. I actually found this quite cool, even though I would only be in New York for one day, I would get to see different seasons! So I kept on walking. After a while I found the river and had a quick look at the grey waters. By that time I was pretty soaked, and getting a tad peckish, so I decided to go find some hot tea and lunch. On my way to the river I’d passed some quirky little places, so I headed back towards Jackson Square and popped into ‘SNice and I was not disappointed: I had a really nice big hot cup of tea and a great mediterranean sandwich. After I got warmed up, I took off again and decided I wanted to see Central Park. I hopped on the metro at Christopher Street and Sheridan Square to go back up north. By that time, I’d walked this (sort of, as my GPS battery wouldn’t have lasted that long, I reconstructed this map from where I know I walked):

While reconstructing this map afterwards, I found out I had been pretty close to the meatpacking district, but I missed that (one could say I should have looked at my map a little bit more often/carefully, but I’d say this is a good reason to go back again to see it).

I got off at 66th Street and lo and behold, I spotted an Apple store on Broadway. I popped in to look at the fancy toys, but didn’t buy anything. Then I wandered over to Central Park. It had started to drizzle again, which meant that I had the park pretty much to myself. Luckily there were some other tourists around Strawberry Fields to take a picture of me, but it was really super quiet (with some noise of the city in the background, but mostly birds overruling that).

I wandered some more through the park, and finally exited at the East side and almost immediately found myself on Madison Avenue. As I was again not looking at my map, I wandered off in the wrong direction, but it did make me come across the Nespresso shop, so I bought some coffee for Paul. Unfortunately it’s not the Nespresso shop that is featuring in the ads with George Clooney, but you can’t have it all.

After hanging around the fancy shops for a bit, I thought I’d go find some postcards and a place to sit, have tea, and write the cards. Turns out that you won’t find postcards in the fancy shopping area. Luckily, they did sell postcards at Grand Central Station. But I couldn’t find a Starbucks or something similar to sit at and write them (there were plenty of coffee places, just none with seating available). So I walked some more and ended up on Times Square :). There I browsed around some of the shops, but then I got a text that Johan had arrived too, and that he was having beer at a place near Madison Square. It turned out to be a proper sports bar, so I had a big glass of cider (I’m not sure about wine in sports bars). We then went to Eataly, a fairly new Italian food court. Johan commented that you probably wouldn’t find so many Italian food stuffs in one place in Italy, but it all looked and smelled terrific. We sat down in one of the little bar places and had some bruschette, minestrone and gnocchi, which all tasted really nice and weren’t too expensive. Even though it was fairly fast food, we did have to hurry up to get back to Times Square to go see the musical we had booked.

What we didn’t know when we booked the tickets, is that April 5th would be the night Billie Joe Armstrong (the singer of Green Day) would return to reprise his role as St. Jimmy in the musical. Lucky us. Anyway, we got there on time, and even had some time left to order drinks. I thought LA was expensive, but it turns out that two drinks at a theatre in NYC will set you back $30. They did come in resealable hard plastic cups though, so you could take them with you into the theatre and not spill.

The show itself was pretty awesome. It was quite interesting to hear the songs in a musical setting (they still rocked out, but they had added some extra voices etc). In some cases the choreography wasn’t really necessary in my opinion, but the set and the energy of the actors made up for that. All in all it was a great night out. And if you wouldn’t be into the show, you would also have a great time at observing the audience, as some of the ladies went crazy when Mr. Armstrong appeared on stage (or even just before he would as they already started shouting and clapping, I reckon they’d seen the show before). When the show was over we left the theatre, and found ourselves standing in the middle of a pathway cleared by crowd control fences, with crowds behind them. When I asked the police officer at the end of the little lane what was up, he said that soon, the cast would come out. So we decided to hang around for a little bit and see what would happen. First some musicians from the show came out, but the crowd paid no attention to them (shame, cos they did a good job). Then one of the lead actors, and as I found out later, runner up in American Idol, came out, and started giving out autographs. And finally, the crowd went crazy as Mr. Armstrong came out. He posed with some fans, signed some playbills and as soon as he was off in a black Mercedes, the crowd was gone too.

As it had gotten dark, we took some more pictures around Times Square (which actually looks smaller in real life than I would have thought after having seen it so often on TV) and then we made our way back to Penn Station to catch our train back to Philadelphia. On the way to the train station, we went and got some drinks at Starbucks, and that was my only visit to Starbucks during the entire week in the US (I thought it was worth mentioning, as they are literally everywhere, at the conference they served Starbucks coffee though…).

So here’s my second leg of the sightseeing tour mapped out:

So I got my exercise in for that day at least. More photos (just to make you jealous) are on my Flickr page. Now I just need to start saving up money so I can go again 🙂

Back in the US

On Monday I travelled to the US again for the Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia. I was a bit miffed because my aircraft didn’t have a personal entertainment system, and I hadn’t brought a book in an attempt to travel light, but luckily I was sat next to a lovely inspiring old lady, so we chatted a bit during the flight. The story this lady told me about her life is something out of a movie. She is Dutch, but lives in the US now. She’s 78 years old, and 8 years ago, she married her boyfriend from when she was 17. The best part is, that they hadn’t seen e ach other for 52 years, but he had found her by Googling her and writing her a letter, and the fell in love again, got married, and now travel all over the world together. How cool is that?

When we got to Detroit, the aircraft was parked in a wrong spot so they couldn’t open the doors at first, and had to repark the aeroplane. Causing me to only have an hour or so to get through immigration and run to my next flight. Luckily I made it, so around 8pm I was in Philadelphia, where it was quite warm outside. While waiting for the train to downtown, I met a British girl who was going to travel around the US and Central America for two months carrying only a small backpack, probably the size of what I’m bringing into the VU every day. I don’t know where I lost the ability to travel that light, but I should really try to get it back. One thing I could have left home were my bikinis, as the swimming pool on the roof of my hotel is still closed for the season….Anyway. On the train, we were presented with the craziest train ticket ever:

After a 15 minute ride, I got off and walked one block to my hotel. It’s super fancy, I even have lavender linen spray for the sheets! After dropping off my stuff, I went for a little walk to my favourite American supermarket Trader Joe’s where I got some water (the tap water here tastes of chlorine) and some fruit. At 11pm I passed out on the big bed with the 15 pillows….

Post-Wedding Bliss

The day afte the wedding, we slept in and then started unwrapping the fabulous presents and the lovely notes we received. When we got hungry, we headed off to the Aran Irish Pub near the Leidseplein to meet up with Paul’s friends for brunch. After a shared greasy (but tasty) Irish breakfast we started saying goodbye to everyone who had to catch their flights.

We then biked towards the Westerkerk, to meet up with Jilly and Peter, who still had some extra time in Amsterdam, and we sat down at a little bar in the Jordaan for some mint tea and catching up. Around 16:00 we met up with Paul’s parents, for whom it was also the last full day in Amsterdam. We had a splendid dinner at a tiny place in the Pijp we stumbled upon called SenT.

On Monday, we had a pretty quiet day, during which I packed my surfboard for our honeymoon, and in the evening we had a dinner party at our place with some of our international guests that stuck around in Amsterdam a little longer (Joe, Gully, and our housesitters Joshua and Ramona).

On Tuesday morning, Paul and I left for our honeymoon in Portugal!! We had decided very last minute that we wanted to go away, so we were very thrilled that we managed to book a place on the beach, and get reasonably priced flights (I know, one is supposed to splurge on a honeymoon, but cheap flights meant more money for partying and pasteis de nata ;)). After a short flight to Lisbon, and an hour and a half busride, we got to Peniche, and found that we had a room with this view:

Not bad eh?

When we arrived we took it easy, had a short walk on the beach, sampled some of the beach bars, and went to the barbecue that was organised at the surf camp in the evening. We didn’t go to bed too late though, because the next morning was our first surf session. I realised I’ve got too careful, which makes me miss waves, and I also wasn’t superfit. But I still had fun. We surfed at several different spots, had tostas during the lunch breaks, followed by naps, and got up the next morning feeling rather sore (but as soon as you start moving again that goes away). The only less-optimal thing of surfing in Portugal is that the water is quite cold. The one day we surfed at Supertubos, my feet got really cold, but it was awesome to feel such a powerful wave. During the day, Paul and I unfortunately didn’t see each other very much, because he was in a different group, but we made up for that during the lunches and the wonderful dinners.

After a week of  fabulous waves, sunshine, great food and wine and meeting cool new people, we had to go home again. But we went home with a tan and fully relaxed after a week offline and in a different environment (holidays are magical!). If you want to see more pictures to get you jealous, check the honymoon pics on my flickr page.