Monday, December 24, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Columbus Circle holiday market, The Plaza and the store fronts of Fifth Avenue

Our last day in New York, and we were going to make the most of it.

We checked out and put our bags in storage, till we would be heading to the airport that evening, and started to walk up 8th Avenue for breakfast, and then on to Columbus Circle. Belinda had read about a holiday market that was to be set up in the Columbus Circle corner of the park.

The market took up a decent sized area, with a combination of handicraft items, food items and the odd mass produced item. It was an interesting mix of merchants, each with their own story to tell.

I spoke with the ladies of Article 22 who told me about the history of the jewelery in their booth. Products were made of aluminum, from the over 250 million bombs that were dropped in Laos in the 1960's by the US military, and now the local farmers have reclaimed and reused the metal to make artisan projects, for the purpose of village redevelopments with proceeds also going towards the clearance of unexploded bombs. I bought a set of three Peace Bomb bracelets.

Belinda and I spent some time in the booth of, where women of Nepal, have created felted and woolen projects to support a woman's coop for abused women. I bought a long felted chain with a Snowman and Santa tucked into it. At, women from Thailand  had created animals out of old telephone books and newspapers. I bought this funky little porcupine critter that will hold business cards, or simply be a fridge magnet. The creativity just blew me away. I had never seen telephone books recycled in such a manner before. There were the usual felted Christmas ornaments in booths, but the felted fuschia reindeer from the "craftspring" women of Kazakhstan made me smile so much that I had to buy a few for my tree this year. The enticing macaroons from the Vendome people also ended up in my hand make shopping bag from the I bought a six pack of pistachio and vanilla flavored ones. They told me that they had to be eaten within one week — as if that was an issue?

Off we wandered east along Central Park south, skimming the bottom of the park, towards The Plaza hotel. I really wanted to skate in Central Park, finally, on this trip, but the weather was just not cooperating. It was far too warm and drizzling to even want to go out onto the ice. Alas, this little desire of skating in Central Park has eluded me for many years now. One day.

The Plaza was decked out in all the splendor of the season festooned on every corner. We wandered in the main doors off the 58th street entrance and were handed a little map, telling us the "holiday happenings" and where they were located in the hotel. We wandered by the famous Palm Court restaurant, past the portrait of "Eloise" and down the escalators to the "Food Hall." This was new. I didn't even realize the Plaza had a food hall, and what a find it was. There was not only a food hall in the lower level, but different stores from Eloise items, to jewellery, to Santa waiting to have his photo taken. The food hall had recently opened, and chef Todd English had a restaurant and his food items also for sale there. We noticed that French food and packaging were big here. I saw one pastry tin, that could have been a twin for a biscuterie tin I purchased in Montmartre earlier this year. The desserts looked so enticing, but we resisted. This place was a beehive of activity, with a queue to get into the restaurant. I coveted a very pretty panetone that was for sale, until I heard the price, $35, and was happy to have my Tres Marie panetone waiting for me at home. I bought a book here, "A very New York Christmas." There were charming illustrations of all the New York hot spots throughout the book, and the illustrator happened to be in the lower level this day, and signed my book for me.

From there we wandered down fifth avenue taking in all the window displays. Well some weren't just window displays, but displays on their windows. The Bergdorf picture windows had a Folies Bergere theme happening, which, like the Bloomies' window, I just didn't get. The actual windows going up the building had a tasteful wreath on every window. There was a huge snowflake across the intersection of 57th and 5th. A gorgeous Bulgari designed necklace was climbing up the outside walls of their store. Cartier had their lovely big cats crawling up their walls, and Harry Winston's was just plain lovely, with marquis diamond like lighting over every window on its facade. Versace was very understated, which really surprised me. We wandered down to the iconic Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree. Even in the drizzle, during the day, it was big, bright and beautiful.

By now we were chilled and damp, and needed a place to dry off, grab a bite before heading back to collect our bags at our hotel. We were also on a mission for a Spanish coffee to warm us up. Who knew this would be such a difficult task? I guess they are out of vogue in NYC these days, but eventually we found someone that made us an Irish coffee, that was more Irish than coffee, but warmed us up none the less.

The skating may have eluded me on this trip, but the fun we had, more than made up for it. Until the next New York adventure...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Warhol, Patsy's and the Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour

Exhausted from our first full day in New York, we had a bit of a lie in, before plotting our second day. We had pre-booked our Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights and Cannoli tour, so planned our day around that end point at 6 pm in Union Square.

We wandered up 8th Avenue from our hotel and had breakfast at Pigalle - it seems we were on a French eating theme. Yummy croissants and cafe au laits, and we were set to start our day. We wandered up the street in search of a bank and stumbled upon a Fire Hall with its doors open, as a truck had just left to investigate a call. I wandered in, staying cautiously close to the door, as I saw a memorial to those fire fighters that had lost their lives in 9/11. Families of the fire fighters were decorating a tree inside, and the crew were happily talking to whoever wandered in.

Both Belin and I had debit card issues at the bank. Be forewarned, when  travelling to New York city, often your bank will put a hold on your account, even when you let them know you are travelling there, due to the high rate of fraud in the city. A phone call later, and we were sorted and solvent and on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue.

The museum sits midway up the park on its eastern edge. To me, the perfect location, as I will take any excuse to visit Central Park, in this case simply driving up and through, in order to get to the museum. Our goal was to see the Warhol show - "Regarding Warhol, sixty artists, fifty  years." It was an interesting take on an exhibition. Of course it had Andy Warhol as the star, but it also had many of those he had influenced over the years. It was a larger show that I had expected, and the pieces were much larger too. This period of Art is not my most favourite, but, I can appreciate what was done, and where they went with it. An obligatory walk through a couple of the gallery shops was in order, as I always find some little treat there. This time I had noticed the prices of pieces had gone up considerably — I guess they are not getting enough money from the suggested admission fees and have to supplement it somehow. I ended up purchasing a Warhol Advent calender. It is unique as the man himself.

Lunch at Patsy's. Patsy's is one of those family friendly restaurants, with yummy food and a casual atmosphere. I had my birthday dinner here a couple of years ago in the upper east side location, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This time I had the Cheese Ravioli with creamy pistachio white sauce - yum. Since the Slice of Brooklyn tour was three and a half hours, and started at six, we thought we should have a decent mid afternoon lunch to tide us through, until they served us our cannoli.

Patsy's is almost across the street from Bloomingdales, so we decided to wander over and check out the store, as well as their window display. The window display was a little disappointing. They had a Cirque de Soleil theme, that just didn't scream holiday window to me, sorry. We then wandered inside the ground floor, into madness. Everyone and his uncle seemed to be there that day. Cash registers were mobbed and there was no sign of a recession in this store. We attempted to get cupcakes at the delicious Magnolia Bakery outlet on the east side of the store, but then thought we would come back tomorrow to get them the freshest before we came home. Best laid plans...

By now it was time to cab it down to the Union Square area to find our holiday lights tour. I was thrilled to be going on this tour. It would take me to parts of Brooklyn I had never seen before, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, and it just seemed like it would be fun, and campy and worthwhile. And you know, it truly was. We met on the corner of 4th and East 13th, where a huge group was already gathering. For some reason I thought this would be a small bus, but I was mistaken. It was a huge bus, and I think it was filled to capacity. Angela and Irene were our guides, both donning Santa hats and offering us candy canes as we boarded, along with Johnson, our driver.
Tourists on the bus.

Lucy's house, who started this tradition in Dyker Heights.
Well, we saw it all — professionally decorated gorgeous homes, to Mom and Pop homes decorated by the owners, and everything in between. It was great. Over the top lights, to theme homes, to homes that were synchronized to music on our bus radio, to understated elegance, to all four walls of the home as a light show. Yes indeed, the Brooklynites know how to put on a show. Angela gave us some great history and background on the homes and neighbourhoods, and some of the owners: there was Lucy, who started this whole light show thing in Dyker heights, and the streams of cars that were driving by, to the four corners were four big mob bosses once resided, with tunnels under the streets linking there houses,  to the story of where Tiger Woods got his start in golfing at the Bay Ridge Golf Club, a very tasteful display of lights there. We all ended up at a local bakery for cannoli's. I mean, what's a visit to an Italian neighbourhood, without getting a cannoli. Having grown up in Toronto, with a huge Italian population, I had an appreciation for a good cannoli.

Santa swinging from the trees.
Our first stop. A beautiful house with a beautiful light show.
This beautiful green and gold light show was made up of
dancing bear topiaries - one for each of the owner's grandchildren.
Your more traditional window light show.
A  continuous flow of traffic with families checking out the lights.
Incredible bundles of wiring, reminded me of wiring in Kathmandu.

Professional lighting or home made?

With clips from classic Andy Williams Christmas specials, and Frank and Bing singing on the video screen on the bus, we were heading back to Manhattan. Ah, it was truly a fun tour, and not to be missed. Angela was an excellent guide, with her enthusiasm oozing out, and Johnson's skill at manoeuvring this bus around tight corners was outstanding.

Sam the Greek's house.
All four sides have lights, and he turns them off at 2 am.
His poor neighbors.
Sam also makes all his own ornaments. He put them up just before Sandy struck,
and only lost one decoration. Says something about his construction.

Since Barnes and Noble was still open in Union Square we wandered in for a look about. After the storer closed, we thought we would head up to see the Rockefeller tree lit up and were trying to find out what time they turned out the lights on the tree. On a previous visit, I had sadly found out they had turned the tree off at ten, when I got there at ten past ten. We didn't want to make that mistake, but not even the local police knew the time. They told me to "google it. "So, there Belinda and I stood outside Barnes and Noble in Union Square, as it started to drizzle, googling everything we could think of to find out the tree lighting times. As the drizzle turned to full on rain we decided to abandon this idea and just head back to our hotel.

 I ended up the evening watching, "live from New York, it's Saturday night!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An artist named Ilia, an actor named Al and so much more...

Belinda and I first met in grade nine. By grade twelve we were good friends, and have remained so ever since. We spoke of doing a trip to celebrate our 50th birthday, the year we turned 50, and it has taken us a year to finally plan it, and here we are, in New York city. I fine place to celebrate. We pre-planned a few events before we came, noted things we thought would be of interest to do, and left the rest to be determined by the weather, how we felt and what might come along.

First up, check-in, drop off our bags and wander around our Times Square neighbourhood. We started walking down Broadway, with no real plan, when I looked down one street and saw a gorgeous Christmas tree at the end of the block. As we got closer, we realized it was the Holiday Market in Bryant Park.

Bryant Park is made up of individual greenhouse like stores, each fashioned with beautiful chandeliers and individual decor. There were artisans, jewellery makers, foodies, a real mix of eclectic things.

As we were walking by one store, I noticed the style of one artist to be very familiar. I knew I had seen his work before, in London, two years earlier. We both went in, and sure enough, it was the same artist I had purchased from in Camden Market, in 2010. Ilia, has a detailed whimsical sketchy style that he then uses water colours on. I had previously bought a London scene, and this time had New York skyline in my sights. Belinda and I both liked a similar scene, and we purchased them. Ilia was a delight to speak with, as he personalized both our sketches and was willing to change frames and even make us hand sketched business cards,  Ilia was good entertainment, and I was thrilled to have purchased such a great souvenir of our trip.

Next stop, Balthazar's in Soho for lunch. Balthazar's is one of those places that always has a buzz about it, inside, and out. I have been there several times, and never seen it not mobbed to capacity, all humming along with organized mayhem. It's decorated in a style of what you think a French bistro would look like, with antiqued mirrors surrounding banquets along two walls, and cosy little nooks of small tables, but seldom does in a real French bistro. It's a fun place and the food is great, and a perfect place to find sanctuary in, as we escaped out of the drizzle outside. Sparkling wine accompanied our lunch, after all, this was our birthday trip. We both left there stuffed, and smiling.

Still had time to wander across the street to the MOMA gift store, and down Broadway to the Pearl River Mart Chinese emporium of all things Asian. It is always fun to wander along the creaky wooden floors there, and discover some treasure. By now, it was rush hour, and we thought we should at least attempt to hail a cab back to our hotel, and finally get into our room to freshen up before our evening with Al, that's Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross, playing at the Schoenfeld theatre.

The theatre was a close three doors down from our hotel. Talk about an easy commute. Our seats were side orchestra — close enough to easily take in those wide eyed faces Al Pacino can make. I always enjoy going for star power when I see plays in New York, as we seldom get that in Toronto. We had so many good options to choose from on this trip, but both agreed on this production. Dare I say it was a little lack lustre. But what do I know, it got a standing ovation at curtain call. I found the first half draggy and the second much more perky.

Off to Joe Allen's for post theatre light dinner, and that was the end of our lovely first day on this birthday celebration adventure.

Our Ilia originals adorning our room.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The kick off..

The other night I went to my first holiday pot-luck for the season with my running group. Lights lead the way to the front door, the house was adorned with greenery and the tree was up and beautiful. We all noted how we scrubbed up pretty good, when we weren't donning wick away clothing. A lovely meal was made with everyone's contributions, along with the yummiest trifle and assortment of home-made cookies for dessert.

Mall parking lots are already crazy busy, as I scour for a parking spot. The stores are hot, crowded and line-ups to pay will now be the norm for the next month.

Driving in the city on a Saturday is the opposite of what it's like on a long weekend in the summer —it's now a permanent rush hour.

Events and get-togethers are being marked on the calender.

It's official, the holiday season is upon us, 'cause I saw Donner and Blitzen today making a quick appearance to show they are ready for their upcoming journey.

Donner, left,  and Blitzen, along with their handler.