Here is Part Two of my friend Ed and his daughter Samantha’s wonderful prize-winning trip from Reno to New York City! You can read Part One here. Fasten your seat belt…they had so much fun!
You can also find this over at Reflections Enroute!
Thursday, February 6th
Our New York City adventure began as we awoke at 4 a.m. Reno time and got ready to head to the airport. The first excitement came as Samantha mentioned that it was snowing just as I came out of the shower. We made it out the door and piled into the Prius with Grandma and Aunt Kim who had come to stay with Grandma while we were gone. As I’m driving 70 miles an hour cautiously down the freeway in the snowstorm I’m giving Aunt Kim, who is from Southern California, driving tips for driving in snow as she had never driven in it before.
We made it to the airport in time for our flight and decided to eat something. When the sticker shock of $11 each for the crappy looking ham and cheese sandwich on a small ciabatta roll nearly gave me a heart attack, we finally settled for a banana (me), a parfait (Samantha), and two sodas for only $13.43. Grandma called just before we boarded to tell me that they had made it home in one piece. So far, so good.
After a pleasant and uneventful flight with a stop in Denver (-11 F) where we got to see our breath in the jet way, we landed in Newark. Next came a taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Times Square.
This was the video footage I recalled as we enjoyed our taxi ride.
Our taxi driver was a very nice gentleman from Egypt who told us about his life, family and experiences as a sugar cane farmer before coming to America and asking us about our lives and conditions in Reno, all while speeding up, slowing down, racing along the shoulder of the road, tailgating, suddenly stopping, and cutting off busses and cars to the sound of indignant horns. Had Grandma been in the car with us she would have been clutching the Jesus strap with white knuckles, stomping on her imaginary passenger brake, and screaming, “Oh God! Oh Jesus!” The only thought in my head as we drove was, “We could use all this snow back home.”
We “arrived” at our hotel on the corner of 49th and Broadway after circling the block and trying to get as close as possible, but due to road closures (thank you Con Edison) the closest we could get was about a block away. After check in we proceeded to the 46th floor and our room overlooking Times Square. We quickly unpacked, freshened up and went in search of FOOD.
We consulted the concierge and were directed to “Restaurant Row,” a two-block stretch of restaurants on 46th St. running from 7th to 9th Ave. At around 6:30 p.m. we were led into the Firebird Restaurant located at 365 West 46th where we tried our luck with Russian food. It turns out our luck was good. After perusing the menu in the nearly deserted restaurant Samantha chose what she had been aching to try for quite some time, Borscht. The menu describes Borscht as, “Ukrainian beef borscht, slow braised beef brisket, and potato piroski.”
I had the Armenian Lamb Rack that came with “Potato lardon cake and vegetables.” The vegetables were asparagus, carrots, and string beans and were accompanied by a shredded fried potato cake with a small amount of brown gravy that had a slight teriyaki flavor. The vegetables were cooked to perfection, the lamb was slightly pink inside and quite moist and delicious, and the potato cake with gravy was scrumptious. After slicing off dainty bites of lamb and dipping them into the gravy I fell back on my culture and upbringing and went cave man on those bones. I also tried a spoonful of Samantha’s borscht and despite my lifelong abhorrence of beets; I found it tasty enough that I would eat it again.
For dessert we ordered Ptichye Moloko (Bird’s Milk) and Romanov. The Ptichye Moloko is a “Milk cream soufflé with melted dark chocolate”.
The Romanov is “Vanilla bean ice cream, strawberries, and a Grand Marnier reduction.”
Each of these desserts was delicious by itself but we discovered that when you combine a small amount of each it becomes the world’s most delicious bite of dessert ever! Our experience at Firebird was good. The food was delicious, the decor was elegant, and the staff was, well, kind of stuffy, quiet as church mice, and somewhat overbearing with the exception of the doorman who lead us to the entrance, but they were very efficient.
After a delicious and expensive meal ($110 including tip) we hit the streets of NYC by night. We wandered around Times Square until we got cold and then headed back to the hotel for a night of well-deserved sleep.
(Samantha: Okay, my dad covered most of everything, so I’ll just summarize: Honestly, I didn’t even notice that the taxi drive was that eventful I mean I’m used to my dad’s driving, so… The food was great! And it was only the first on a long list of absolutely, indescribably wonderful food.)
Friday, February 7th
Our day started at 7 a.m. with a free breakfast buffet at the hotel. Breakfast was free because the front desk clerk couldn’t get our United miles and our hotel stay to link up when we checked in. Free FOOD? Count us in!
The first stop of the day was the Empire State Building. We arrived to huge crowds no crowds about 10 minutes after the doors opened. We made our way through the winding path learning about the construction and design of the Empire State Building finally making our way to the observation deck on the 86th floor. We stepped outside to a frigid, stinging, benumbed, penetrating, Arctic atmosphere that chilled to the bone and kept on going for lack of anything better to do. Dear God was there ever any colder place on earth? Would I ever be able to feel my extremities again? How long does it take to freeze to death? If you shoved a stick up my butt, would I become the first human Popsicle? Okay, the view was fantastic, but damn it was cold!
The beautiful Big Apple skyline…
We left the realm of Elsa the ice queen, took the subway to 50th St. and made our way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While walking we passed Radio City Music Hall and then Samantha was drawn to a large group of country flags. We had wandered upon Rockefeller Center’s famous ice skating rink. Half a block later we arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The only downer was that the Cathedral was undergoing renovations and had scaffolding all around the outside and inside, but it was still quite beautiful.
We decided our next stop should be somewhere warm, so we took the subway to 86th St. and spent the next couple of hours meandering through the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We saw Egyptian art, Asian art, and my favorite, European paintings. When our feet could no longer propel us and our empty bellies would no longer sustain us we went outside and ate the quintessential NYC meal…a hot dog from a cart. Samantha opted for a plain hot dog and I took mine with everything, which apparently included mustard, ketchup, some type of tangy sauce and onions. My overall impression? Meh.
We sat on the stairs of the museum with the warm sun beating down on us and ate our dogs while people watching. As we sat on the stairs I saw the most beautiful woman and came up with the perfect pick-up line, “Excuse me Miss, but you should be inside this museum. You’re the most beautiful work of art I’ve ever seen.” Did I use it? No. I may think fast, but I’m still a coward.
After an hour of rest at our hotel we went in search of more FOOD before going out for the night. Our search for FOOD led us to La Carafe Bistro a French restaurant located at 653 9th Ave.
We both decided we had to start off with the Escargots with Garlic Butter. While the escargot was good it seemed a tad overcooked.
Samantha ordered the Cotellettes d’Agneau au Cumin (Grilled Lamb Cutlets sprinkled with Cumin).
I opted for the Escalope de Veau a la Creme (Tender Veal Cutlet in light Creme Sauce with Mushrooms). How should I describe my veal??? Angels descended from heaven, alighted on my taste buds, danced the hula, sang hymns of praise to the god of food, and then, as I wept tears of joy, ascended to heaven to await the next person to order the veal. I contemplated licking my plate but was unsure of the social ramifications of this action.
My veal came with a bowl of salad that appeared to be spring mix with green peppers, tomato, onions, and cucumber with a dressing made of olive oil, lemon, garlic, and salt. Samantha’s lamb also came on a bed of this same salad.
I ordered the Creme Brulee, custard with a hard shell on top and a dab of whipped cream. Both were excellent, but I enjoyed the profiterole more. Total cost with tip $94.00, and worth every penny.
Dessert for Samantha was Profiterole, a cream puff, cut in half, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. The cream puff was covered in chocolate and nuts with whipped cream and more chocolate sauce on the sides
Our last event of the day was The Lion King. I admit I was skeptical at first, but this was amazing! The costumes and mannerisms of the actors portraying the animals was mind-blowing.
(Samantha: Free food, coooold, beautiful flags of the world, a lovely church being renovated, some unbelievably lovely art, food, food from heaven, and a fantastic show. If you couldn’t tell, we seriously love food.)
Saturday, February 8th
At 9 a.m. we exit the subway at Battery Park and take a right instead of going across the street. What good luck! We wind up at the snack bar inside the Staten Island Ferry building. We both pass on traditional breakfast food and order Nathan’s hot dogs with chili and cheese, large crinkle cut fries that are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside, and cokes for both. There is even garlic powder for the fries. There’s nothing quite like a healthy breakfast and this was nothing like a healthy breakfast.
Next stop the statue of Liberty Enlightening The World, her official title. We board the ferry and make our way across the waters. “Iceberg, dead ahead!”
We have tickets to climb to her crown, that’s 377 stairs from ground level. You can ride the elevator to the pedestal and cut out around 100 or so stairs but I’m tough, I can make it. Three flights up and I need to stop to “put my camera away.” Two flights later and I realize I need to stop to “look at something outside.” Then we reach the pedestal and stop, thank God, to take pictures.
The remaining stairs are just a circular staircase winding around and around and around as they go up and up and up and up. Did I mention there are 377 stairs? Climb and breath, climb and breath, phew! At last we have reached the crown and hopefully a defibrillator. The view is nice through the small windows, but what is most amazing is realizing that you are standing inside the top of perhaps the most recognizable symbol of freedom in the world.
We descend 377 stairs, my knees turn to Jell-O, and I start to black out while leaning against the gift shop counter.
The ferry takes us to Ellis Island where we learn about the process that immigrants went through to enter the U.S. back in the day. Did you know that the healthcare for incoming immigrants was free, imagine that.
We disembarked at Battery Park, check out the memorial for WWII soldiers lost in the Atlantic Ocean, and take the subway to Bleecker St. If you’d like you can listen to Bleecker Street by Simon & Garfunkel as you read this next section.
We were starving and needed FOOD. We followed our noses to Café Espanol at 172 Bleecker St. They gave us a mix of olive oil with sliced green and black olives and minced garlic to dip our bread in. Yummy!
Samantha chose the Broiled Norwegian Salmon with rice and a Black Bean soup. The Norwegian Salmon came covered with caramelized onions.
The Black Bean soup was just that with minced garlic and onion and it was very good.
I decided on the Paella Valenciana with the Caldo Gallego. The Paella was saffron rice with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, chicken, and sausage.
The Caldo Gallego was a soup consisting of collard greens, potatoes, white beans, and sausage.
The amount and quality of the food was very good for the price, about $42 including tip. We couldn’t finish our meals and had to forego dessert. If we had it to do again I think we would choose a selection of tapas (appetizers/snacks) so we could try more variety.
We returned to the hotel, rested, and packed for our early flight. Our last hurrah in NYC was seeing Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen along with Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley in Waiting For Godot.
I had heard of but never seen nor read this play. It was very interesting, enough so that I now own a copy of the play, and it was great to see such fine performers live on stage. Afterword we stayed by the performer’s entrance and we managed to get the autographs of Billy Crudup and Sir Ian McKellen as well as pictures of Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.
And Sir Patrick Stewart…
(Samantha: More food! Woohoo! The Statue of Liberty was beautiful, and it was super exciting to go to Ellis Island. A great meal on Bleecker Street satisfied both my hunger and my love for Simon and Garfunkel. I’m still not sure how to explain Waiting for Godot, but I loved it and am excited to learn more about it.)
Sunday, February 9th
After a brief nap we awoke and caught a cab to the airport where we devoured Philly Steak sandwiches. Here is mine…
I also found a Dunkin’ Donuts and purchased half a dozen of my favorite donut, a light chocolate cream filled donut with powdered sugar on the outside. Yes, Samantha got one…but only one.
We flew from Newark to Los Angeles and then on to Reno drove the rest of the way because our flight was cancelled due to mechanical reasons and no other flights were available. The best they could do was maybe get us home via Phoenix on Monday night arriving in Reno at 10:05 p.m. So, we rented a car and drove to Reno Auburn, California where we stopped because I was already falling asleep at the wheel just as we were about to drive through the mountains at night in a snowstorm.
(Samantha: He hoarded all the donuts…)
Monday, February 10th
At 11:25 a.m. Reno time the Enterprise rental agent deposited Samantha and me, ever so gently, in our driveway. Our journey had come to an end, but the memories will live forever…