Saturday, January 29, 2011

The City That Never Sleeps

~post by MJ~

Photo of MJ, Rog and friend, Kuya Sohnnie, posing by the famous "Friends" fountain, courtesy of MJ 

For hubby Rog and I, 2007 will go down in history as the year the travel bug bit us. And hard.

I was 32. He was 35. We had no kids yet. But we had two trusty, old vehicles, tanks full of gas, some money saved up, a few credit cards, and the incessant urge to go places. And go places we did.

June of that year found us in New Mexico, where we exchanged wedding vows in a hot air balloon at sunrise one glorious Friday above the winding Rio Grande. A powerful gust of wind swept our balloon sideways upon landing, dragged us full speed across a highway, nearly causing our balloon (and the terrified passengers) to collide with some huge trees and a power box before coming to a stop in a big cloud of dust.

We survived and, a month later, the travel bug sent us packing again and driving several hours to Busch Gardensamusement park in Virginia, where it took us two days to ride all the rides (including those roller coasters I detest so very much) and watch all the shows. We also spent an entire day working on our tans at Water Country USA and checking out the cool artifacts at Jamestown settlement.

August arrived and one weekend, I told Rog I fancied sinking my teeth into an authentic Philly cheese steak. So we piled into my old Chevy Corsica and drove a couple hundred miles to Pittsburgh were I found me one. You betcha it was worth the long drive!

In September that year, Rog woke me one Saturday morning and asked if I would like to go to New York City with him. I remember blurting out, "Of course!" But then, a few seconds later, "Do we have the money?" To which he replied, "There are a lot of fun things we can do in NYC that don't cost much." And, boy, was he was right!

So here's a list of some fun, cost effective things to do with a friend/s when visiting New York City:

1) Take a brisk or leisurely walk around Central Park. This is something Rog, I, and our friend, Kuya Sohnnie, a resident of Manhattan (who so graciously toured us around the city), did for a huge part of our second day in the Big Apple. We stopped often to pose and take pictures at spots in the park that have been featured in movies or TV shows - the popular "Friends" fountain, for instance.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Central Park features a variety of exciting events for everyone - health walking clinics for the athletic, Achilles international workouts for athletes with disabilities, polar bear viewing at theCentral Park Zoo (which also boasts many other animal species), quiet time at the serene Conservatory Garden for nature lovers, the Belvedere Castle Exhibit for castle enthusiasts. Visit for a complete listing of all park events. 

 Photo of MJ sitting at Meg Ryan's table in Cafe Lalo, courtesy of Rog

2) Eat at any Restaurants or cafe featured in a movie that you really liked. I have always been a big fan of the 1990s film "You've Got Mail" (starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), so imagine my delight when Kuya Sohnnie took us to Cafe Lalo for breakfast the first day we met up with him! I found the lovely European decor and open air atmosphere, featuring floor-to-ceiling French windows, rather impressive. I had a most delicious Belgian waffle (which I still dream of to this day), Rog had a fresh baked muffin and Kuya Sohnnie had some fresh fruit and berries. Cafe Lalo also serves organic cereals, natural yogurt, smoked fish, special steamed eggs, sandwiches and salads, among other things. It was too early for margaritas, but we were told the bar had recently expanded and only stocks top shelf brands of alcohol in addition to its wide selection of fine dessert wines, aperitifs, cognacs and after-dinner drinks. It also serves world-class connoisseur cheese platters
I found Cafe Lalo's food and alcohol offerings wow-worthy, but really, I was mostly thrilled to be eating in the very same cafe Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks had met at in "You've Got Mail"! I even got to sit at the very table Meg sat at! How cool is that?:)

Photo of MJ and Rog in Chinatown, courtesy of Kuya Sohnnie 

3) Spend an entire day at Chinatown, one of the oldest Chinese ethnic communities outside of Asia. There's never a dull moment in this place that offers endless sights, sounds, smells and tastes for visitors to experience.

Museum-goers can visit the Museum of Chinese in America, or those who are into exploring old churches can check out the Church of the Transfiguration, at 25 Mott Street, which was constructed in 1815. It is the oldest Catholic church in New York City today and it has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places

Those who would like to buy cheap "designer" bags are in for a treat at the loud and busy Canal Street, famous for its open-air bazaars. I remember buying two Gucci bags and one Armani - all 3 for just $100! Tourists can avail of exotic goods from all over the world as well as cheap watches, sunglasses and clothing of questionable origin.

Photo of snails simmered in black bean sauce at Hop Kee Restaurant, courtesy of MJ

But I think my favorite part of our trip to Chinatown had to be our dinner at Hop Kee Restaurant, an excellent choice for Cantonese cuisine. Hop Kee specializes in freshly prepared dishes at affordable prices, and fast, efficient service. I remember sharing with Rog a platter full of snails simmered to perfection in a rich black bean sauce. Can you say yum?! The chef recommended a few other dishes, including pan fried flounder, Cantonese crab, lychee duck and Peking porkchop. We will definitely try those next time! The downsides to this restaurant are the Spartan decor and the fact it is located below street level. But faithful patrons of Hop Kee - including famous comedian Bill Cosby - will tell you that even though Hop Kee isn't much to look at, it is "all about the food" at this place!

4) Sit back and relax at a bar/lounge recommended by a friend. Therapy was the name of a hot nightspot in Hell's Kitchen that another friend took us to during the week we spent in New York City. We mingled and danced with a friendly, diverse gay crowd and sipped on cocktails named after psych disorders such as "Delusions" and "Psychotic Episodes." We gave standing ovations to the excellent comedians at Therapy's comedy hour, part of the bar's free entertainment, along with nightly DJs and an open-mike night.

Gym Sports Bar was another gay bar our friend told us about. For lack of time, we were unable to hang out there, unfortunately. But we were told it is New York City's first and only gay sports bar. It features comfy couches, pool tables and 9 flat-screen TVs for viewing athletic events while mingling with well-built athletic types. We will probably hit this bar the next time we visit NYC

5) Stay at a charming bed-and-breakfast while in New York City. You will find the rates are usually lower compared to hotels. Rog and I stayed at Tony's Place, a B&B located in a 1700’s historic brownstone building, with a lovely garden out back. I remember strolling to Central Park from Tony's Place during our weeklong stay there. It would take us a mere 10 minutes. Other attractions just minutes away by subway or bus include The Museum of Natural History,Tavern on the Green, Lincoln Center, Broadway theaters and Times Square.

6) Have a blast watching one of NYC's many parades! Who doesn't love a parade with all the colors, the fabulous, flashy costumes, the merry music, the noisy crowds? "The City That Never Sleeps" boasts several parades each year. Among them - Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeNew York City Village Halloween Parade, St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Gay Pride Parade (Sunday, June 26). 

  MJ and Kuya Sohnnie by the Hudson RiverNew Jersey in the background, courtesy of Rog

7) Go watch an awesome fireworks display with a friend. Oh, how I love fireworks! New York City's Gay Pride weekculminates with The Dance on the Pier (Sunday, June 26), followed by a spectacular fireworks show at 10:30 p.m. Thousands of GLBT revelers and friends get together on Pier 54 after the Pride March for the dance. This is known as one of the great gay Manhattan parties of the year. 

Sadly, our week in New York City went by too quickly. We will definitely be back soon though! I get a feeling it's only a matter of time before our friend, the Travel Bug, bites again ... 

- By MJ
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  1. Ang romantic naman nun madam sa hot air balloon...Hope to visit NYC soon (wishful thinking)...

    Good day!

  2. hey, thanks so much for your kind words.. :) I feel blessed to read all the nice words on my blog while i endure the pain, a pleasant diversion n sort of makes the pain go away a little.

  3. Wow..MJ, you did travel, and such wonderful photos you're sharing!

  4. Oh, i miss New York...

    thanks for sharing


  5. Nice travel pictures; I would love to visit New York City someday!

  6. is a rare sight to see chinese new year decorations over there. :)

  7. take me with you when your friend bites again PRP,hehehe well at least i'll be with you for certain in my dreams:)

  8. I have never been to NYC before, and it's a fascinating city to visit one of these days!

  9. I hope to be able to visit the US someday :)

  10. We used to go to Cafe Lalo a lot for dessert. They have an amazing dessert selection.

  11. That's pretty amazing! I have never lived life like that. The hubs and I would like to though. First we need to raise some responsible littles though... :)

  12. Interesting peak. I don't think I'd be thrilled about snails

  13. What an exciting and memorable year you had! Thanks for sharing your adventures in NYC. I was there last May and didn't realize about the "Friends" fountain.

  14. hmmmm... I have never been to NY yet and it's only about 8 hours drive from here. TSS next reunion in NY is indeed a great idea. what do you think? wink***

  15. wow! thanks for this post MJ! welcome to our blogging happine$$! *winks*
    now, you made me drool with the snails photo too! i agree, that's the best photo here. :)
    you also made me want to include NY in my "dream" places to visit. ;)

    Beth, you are ever so kind to share your blogging happine$$! God bless your kind heart always. :)

  16. So much fun! I like traveling without kids, it is so free. You know I would never go back to being kid-less, but the thought is so relaxing!

  17. An active teenager has to take a shower every day. If he wonders why a girl doesn't even talk to him more than 30 seconds is because of the foul odor!

  18. Sounds like fun. I ate at many interesting places in NYC but at that time did not think about movies being set there. Sometimes we would see actors and actresses, which was cool.