New York

What city is number one for excitement in the good old US of A? Why the Big Apple, of course. That’s right, New York City, also known as the City of Bridges. You’ve got the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge all in one metropolis. If you’ve been here before, then you definitely know why some people say it’s one of the greatest, maybe even the greatest in the world! There is so much to do here that it would take a month to crack the surface. From Central Park to Times Square and Broadway, right down to the South Street Seaport, there is plenty to keep you busy, so, if you’re ready, let’s take Manhattan by storm…

I’m not kidding, entertainment is everywhere. You can see award winning shows on Broadway, opera at the Met, the world famous Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall and jazz at Lincoln Center. There’s even live jazz played right on the street! You can also get tickets to see television show tapings like Saturday Night Live and the Late Show with David Letterman. Not to mention there’re so many places to shop! Better check that credit card limit! From toys at FAO Schwartz to million dollar necklaces at Harry Winston it’s all here if you want it and have enough spare change to afford it! If the sky’s the limit, then New York’s got it! In just about every shape, size color and price range!

Of course, you haven’t truly experienced the pulse of the city until you check out where that pulse is coming from…the crossroads of the world… Times Square. But, if you’re gonna see everything you’ll want to see you’ll need to find some wheels! My advice when you first get to New York? Take a quick sightseeing tour to get yourself oriented. What’s going to be a drive-by for you, and what you’re going to really want to see in detail later on.

Come to Times Square and look for the topless buses. That’s the vehicles not the passengers. You hop on and off when you want and it’s fantastic! So, let’s take a bite out of the Big Apple. Why sit inside when you can sit on top of the world? These buses have been a part of New York sightseeing for as long as New York’s had tourists. And, the outside deck is the perfect place for picture taking, with over 50 jump on-jump off stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn, you really get a feel for the city. Next stop…all of them!

Wow, first stop, the Empire State Building. Incredible! Here’s a little trivia, did you know that the pole on the top was originally built to tie off the zeppelin. Isn’t that great? And a little new trivia, they opened a new viewing platform in 2005, 16 floors higher than the old one. At 102 stories, the empire state building is now the tallest building in New York and is called one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

When the building was built people thought that dirigibles, or zeppelins or blimps, were going to be the new way to travel. So the very top of the building above the 102nd floor was designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles. The idea was that a dirigible would land and they would tether it to the top of the building and then the passengers would walk down a plank, that’s about 1200 feet above the streets of Manhattan, then go into a little reception area and have a cocktail. Wow, that gives new meaning to the term high ball!

Even if you’ve never seen the empire state building in person, you’ve definitely seen it in the movies! It’s been in about 200 movies, obviously, the most famous are the King Kong movies, the original black and white, done in ’33, and Peter Jackson’s more recent presentation. It has a very romantic aura to it even with the rage of that big ape.

During the summer, the platform stays open late normally closing at midnight, and, to accommodate the tourists coming after the plays and shows, it’s open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night until 2am through to the middle of September.

Turns out, this is the best place to start your tour of the Big Apple! It’s a great idea for visitors to come to the building first. When you get to the top of the building, you see where Central Park is. You see where Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island are. This is where Macy’s is and the shopping district, too. That way you can decide what you are doing and where you are going, because the Empire State Building is the centerpiece of Manhattan. You’re right there in the middle. During tourist time, usually summer, there are crowds and you can wait up to 30 minutes to go up to the top. If you are here in the height of the season, come Tuesday through Thursday when they open at 8am. You come that early or wait until between 3 and 5pm or after 11 at night on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday because you’ll be able to stay till 2am.

So the only way to go now…is up! This is where the adventure begins. You’re going to take an escalator up to the 2nd floor, then an elevator from the 2nd to the 80th floor. You change elevators. Take an elevator from the 80th to the 86th floor. Change elevators. Go from the 86th to the 102nd floor. They call it “Donkey Kong-ing” your way to the top. And then go out and take a look, a 360° look at the Big Apple!

To get to the very top, you take an old-fashioned elevator with an old fashioned elevator operator…the job I mean, not the person. It takes about an hour to get to the very top. Then you find yourself standing on the highest place you can stand in New York. This is the one place you can see central park though. You know what? I think I like the 86th floor observation deck better ‘cause you can see out and get a better view. Time to take the express ride down and hop on that double-decker bus to the next stop!

There are so many things to do in New York that it’s impossible to do it all in one trip. How do you see and do everything you want to do in New York without exhausting yourself in the process? By pacing and coming here for more than one visit. One of the biggest mistakes that travelers make is over scheduling. People try to pack in a museum visit in the morning. They run off to see a play at noon-time. They come back and see some gardens in the afternoon, and then have an early dinner so they can go to see theatre at 8’oclock. It’s nuts. I think they should eliminate half of what they plan to do on a given day, and enjoy where they are. After all, this is a vacation not a business trip!

So you have to prioritize! Even locals will tell you that on your first trip here, you have to take a carriage ride through Central Park. The horses are so cute, with fancy hates and sweet names. Where do we go? What do we get to see? Basically, they’re going to take you through the park and come out by the Plaza Hotel by 5th avenue, where all the shopping is. That’s where, Suzie, my horse, likes to shop!

Central Park is over 800 acres. It’s 50 blocks long! There are all kinds of things here. There’s lawn bowling, there’re lakes, there’s ice-skating, there are carousels. It’s definitely a worthwhile thing to do. A carriage ride’s expensive, but you know, it’s like taking a gondola in Venice. It’s just something you have to do.

So what’s the best time to take a carriage ride? if you want a romantic ride with your significant other, go for evening. But mornings are really pretty as well. All the birds are chirping and the city gets moving. Carriages start at 10 o’clock in the morning because they’re not permitted to be in the park before 10. They run well into the evening, 12, 1, 2 o’clock in the morning.

You’ll come down and around to the Central Park Carousel. Back in the 20’s, this old time carousel was brought to the park from Coney Island. Today, it only costs a dollar fifty to ride and it speeds around at 15 mph. That’s faster than my horse & carriage! And just beyond, if you look to the left over some trees, you’ll see the buildings used in the movie Ghost Busters. They’re the “San Rino Apartments.” They’ll look more familiar if you think back to a big marshmallow climbing on them. You know, this is really nice. Even on a hot day. You go through the trees, you get a shaded canopy and you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. This is really the only way to see Central Park. And it is fun for the kids and totally romantic for the lovers! Gentlemen take note: wow your lady with a carriage ride! And, the park is so clean! How do they keep 800 acres of land in such great condition? They have a fleet of people that are here every day that pick up every scrap everything. This park is manicured, almost everything is manicured here, the trees, the bushes, the grass, everything. One special area here is very well known to my generation!

Oh, what else, but Strawberry Fields. It’s not too big. It’s just really a memorial for John Lennon, dedicated by Yoko Ono, named, of course, for his famous song. Strawberry Fields is not really a field, but an area of Central Park that’s dedicated to the memory of Lennon. It’s beautifully shaded and peaceful. Right at the center of three crossroads that are lined with benches, you’ll find the Imagine Memorial. It’s a place to reflect and remember. “Imagine all the people”…hundreds visit every day, leaving flowers and letters to pay respect to one of New York’s favorite residents and songwriters, who lived right across the street in the famous Dakota Building. The Dakota is located on 72nd & Central Park West, and, the apartment he lived in is on the park side. Yoko has said she can look down and see the Imagine Monument right there.

As our carriage ride through the city’s greatest park ends, I’m thinking about some of the other ways to get around in the city. Whether you take one of the famous New York cabs, a bus, or the subway, head downtown to see the original mode of transportation here, the 1885 Pioneer, a 3-masted sailing schooner!

But for visitors who have a little more adventure in mind, I found a sightseeing option for those with a need for speed! The “Shark” is a guaranteed adrenaline rush just waiting for a few thrill-seekers to give it a shot! Who would have thought you could take a speedboat ride in the middle of New York Harbor? Unbelievable. Hang on, you’re in for a wild ride. Sure there are other ways to see the city but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty at 60 mph!! You get to stop for a couple of minutes at the Statue of Liberty to take pictures and walk around, get your breath, put your hair back on, what a great time. Then, it’s bye-bye Statue of Liberty. Wow! Now that is a blast!

This is the spot where the city feels most alive. With 100’s of stores and restaurants and 1000’s of people traipsing through each day. Not to mention all the major television networks with studios overlooking the hustle and bustle of the midtown traffic….This place has so much eclectic atmosphere, it’s no wonder that Dick Clark has been rockin’ in the New Year here for almost four decades!So where exactly is Times Square? It’s actually a major intersection in Manhattan, at Broadway and Seventh Avenue. This area stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets and consists of the blocks between Sixth and Eighth Avenues, making up the western part of the commercial area of midtown Manhattan. Sure it’s not as big as Red Square in Moscow or the Champs-Elysées in Paris, but Times Square is still a world famous landmark and a symbol of its home city.

And if you think it’s impressive during the day, just wait until the sun goes down! Simply amazing! I guess this is why it’s called the city that never sleeps. There are so many restaurants in the city, how do you decide where to dine before a show?

Probably the best way to find a pre-theatre restaurant is to go to the edge of the theatre district. Don’t fall for going into a theatre district restaurant. They tend to be crowded. They often tend to be more expensive. Instead go to the edge of the theatre district, find a restaurant, but find one that’s within walking distance. If it’s a 15 minute walk, it’s going to put you in a restaurant that’s far less crowded and you’ll get to the theatre in plenty of time.

I don’t have to tell you about the entertainment available here, but I do want to tell you how to get to see the entertainment you’ve decided to see. To get decent tickets can be quite a chore, but, I’ve got a few helpful tricks up my sleeve to make life easier for you. You don’t have to be Donald Trump to afford a Broadway show.

Down at the South Street Seaport is where tourists and New Yorkers can buy discount theatre tickets. The place is at “T-K-T-S” and what a bargain! Let’s say it’s 2:00 in the afternoon on Tuesday and you come here and take a look at the availability. What a selection! They have Rent, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, The Producers, Hairspray, and Beauty and the Beast. This is a great place to get tickets because one, the office opens a lot earlier than Times Square and, two, the lines are super short. I got 2 third row seats for Wednesday’s matinee of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. If we has taken single seats, we could have had front row! Who says you have to know Andrew Lloyd Weber to get great seats!

You have to be hungry with all this adventure. When in Rome do as the Romans do, and keeping with Italian tradition, you’ll find that New Yorkers have long had a love affair with pizza. They like it thin, crispy, big and cheesy. And if you dare bring up Chicago style deep dish pizza you’re just asking for trouble! Is all pizza good? Sure! But if you want your pizza great… then you gotta go to John’s, one of the four original families who brought pizza to New York!

What is about John’s Pizza that makes it so unique? The fact that they fuel their ovens with coal. Gas or electric ovens don’t get as hot as you can get coal and the coal adds a little flavor. So pizza’s very thin, crisp and full of flavor. Now, how does that differ from the wood-fire pizzas? The temperature makes all the difference, just like when you have a steak. You can either broil it or put it on the barbeque. The charcoal flavors the steak the same way the coal flavors the pizza. John’s has been making their pizza the same way for almost 80 years. And you better be hungry because you can’t just get a slice at John’s, you have to order the whole pie! They started down on Bleaker Street back in 1929. But they’re in the theatre district now, in an old church built back in 1888. It has been a church, a convent and then stood empty for about 15 years before John’s Pizza took it over. And it was abandoned with graffiti all over the walls. The floor didn’t exist or the staircase they have in it now. There’s stain glass everywhere, all original. How it survived, they can’t tell you.

Enough of architecture, my stomach is growling. How many pizza styles and types do they have here? Back in the day when they first started there were 54 varieties. They’ve added some toppings since then, so there are probably about a hundred and fifty.

Now if it is early in the day it’s not hard to get in here. There are a lot of tables and generally it’s not crowded, but if you come pre-theatre time, they definitely do get a line. Sometimes it can be a half hour wait. They offer take out and are toying with the idea of offering delivery, but they want to make it limited, because, you know what? When you order a John’s pie you expect a John’s pie and they don’t want to disappoint the customers. I struggled to eat a whole one and had to have help, but now I know what all the fuss is about. Mamma Mia, was that good!

The best way to find a restaurant in New York is to use a good restaurant guide. And it’s important not to fall for the brochures that you find in your hotel room. These are largely are paid advertising for restaurants. Instead, use the guide, rely on it and you’ll find a good restaurant.

> You can see New York City from the sky, the water, on a double-decker and from the back of a horse or in a carriage! Now it’s time to pound the pavement and see the city like the locals do. And, our first stop is always my favorite, 5th Avenue for some very fashionable window shopping! 5th Avenue’s a long street. But the designer shops are in the upper 50’s. And, oh! What kind of trouble you can get into! Nice…. Jewelry, we got Berghdorf Goodman, Gucci, Tiffany, all the big names. Now you can shop cheaper, but there are things in this area that you’ll want to see. For example, F.A.O. Schwartz is here, be to leave your money at the hotel, but bring the kids so they can make a wish list. You got the Apple Store over there for all things Big Apple. So, just remember that the 5th Avenue designer shops are just one of the many areas that you’re going to want to see. Every world famous company has a store front on 5th avenue. Whether you’re looking for upscale clothing by Dior, luggage from Prada or handbags from Gucci and Coach, you’ll find it here, even just CDs and toys for the kids.

Now if you can’t afford the upscale prices of 5th avenue there are definitely other shopping options in the NYC. What’s the biggest mistake people make when they come to New York City? Probably shopping on 5th Avenue. It’s the classic mistake that people make. When people want to shop in New York, I think they should probably head downtown. Go to Soho, which has basically become a virtual mall for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

However, if you are up to hoofing it, probably the best place to get some really terrific bargains is right on the sidewalk. From? You guessed it…the sidewalk vendors on Canal Street! I love Canal Street. Sunglasses, watches, purses, souvenirs, this is the place to come. Canal Street is a world away from 5th Avenue but it’s got just about anything a thrifty tourist could want at rock bottom prices. Now, if you come down on the weekend, the prices are going to be a little bit higher because all the tourists are here, but if you come during the week they’ll really bargain with you. That’s right. The best part about the vendors is they’re willing to haggle with you. And you might just get a bargain you didn’t expect to find.

If you’re looking for designer knock-offs, which you’re really not supposed to buy, you will find them down here, but they’re not right on the street. You’ll be walking along and someone will go, “books, books, books, Gucci, Prada.” And he’ll pull out a little notebook or a piece of paper and you can pick out the bag or the sunglasses or the watch that you want. They kind of take you to the back of the store or around the corner and then they show a fabulous fake. Now, I don’t advocate buying it, but now you know where to find it.

Knock-off Gucci bags and cheap sunglasses aren’t the only things you’ll find on the streets of New York City. You’ll also find some tasty sidewalk treats to give your body a little fuel. There are fresh coconuts, they spike them and give you two straws so you can share the delicious milk. Yummy!

Now coconuts are great but if you’re still having little hunger pangs, head over to Mulberry Street in the heart of Little Italy for a traditional sweet treat… cannolli. That’s ricotta cheese and a lot of sugar wrapped in a fried pastry tube. Now that’s Italian. Little Italy, I mean you’ve seen it in the movies glamorizing the gangsters and the Rat Pack. But, this is Mulberry Street, definitely the place to come if you’re hungry. A nice sweet way to end your visit.

Well, we took a little bite out of the Big Apple. I’m sure once you’ve been here, you’ll want to come back for another bite to see all the other things New York City has to offer, maybe in a different season. Of course, the biggest event is always ringing in the New Year in Times Square, but for that you’ll have to make reservations a year in advance to be sure of a place to stay!