Last Day in New York

Yellow forsythia covered in snow outside a brick building
Forsythia covered in snow in Astoria, NYC.

We didn’t sleep well our last night in New York, and awoke groggy on a day that matched our mood: grey, rainy, and cold. Matt put me in charge of day planning, so I began researching cafes and indoor gardens. I wanted to find something low key to do on our last day in New York!

We settled on the Natural History Museum. It was indoors, pay-what-you-can, had a planetarium for Matt, a butterfly garden for me, and was next to the Central Park Conservatory Gardens. Also, it came highly recommended to me by my friend Caitlin.

Photo of a crystal glass of orange juice
Glass of orange juice at Astoria Provisions

I voted we go to Astoria Provisions for our last breakfast in New York. I had thoroughly enjoyed our first breakfast there – it was a wonderful little place. So, once we’d showered, packed our bags, and tidied our AirBnB room, we trudged our into the rain.

I ordered an egg benny on a biscuit with ham and hash brown potatoes. It was very good! Matt had scrambled eggs with rye bread and salmon. We both had two cups of coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. We both felt better after a good meal.

Photo of a circle cut into concrete in the wall dividing the subway tracks. Behind it, a person is seen stepping off the stairs.
Track level in the subway in Astoria, NYC

Museum Way

When we exited the subway, we were greeted by a bustling crowd of children and wet umbrellas. There was a lineup all the way down the street to get into the museum! Apparently everyone else in NY had the same idea.We reviewed our alternative options. The Guggenheim was across the park and would involved more walking through the rain with our baggage. The Museum of Sex was back the way we’d come and the film museum was a distance away. We poked our nose into the New York Society Museum, but didn’t fancy paying $21 USD for an exhibit of the Vietnam War.

Matt proposed we go for a drink. I did a Google and saw a pub with an intriguing name: the Dead Poet Pub. So we steered our dripping directions in that direction.

Photo of the Dead Poet menu by a cap and a pint
Matt reviewing his options at the Dead Poet

Dead Poet Pub

The Dead Poet Pub was long and thin. Everything on the wall and the staff’s t-shirts were printed backward so you could read them in the mirror behind the bar. The menus were bound between the covers of vintage poetry books.Our waitress was from Kentucky. She was very friendly, attentive, yet non-intrusive – just how we like it! There was free popcorn too, which I happily munched away on while I nursed a $4 local lager. Matt tried a couple different local beers as we watched the world outside the window, rain drops dripping down the glass. Little dogs in coats bopped on by, tails high despite the gloom, happy to be out on an afternoon walk.

Photo of blue clouds at sunset
View from the plane window on our way home

Journey Home to Toronto

We took public transit to the airport. Matt and I held hands on the platform, waiting for our subway homebound as I sung a little ditty titled “Matt and Nell lost in New York”. (Fortunately we didn’t get too lost on our way of the city this time around)

LGA Airport

LGA Airport was spread out and a bit confusing. They definitely needed a better way finding system put in place here! Once we finally found the West Jet counter, we were greeted by the friendliest airport clerk I have ever encountered! Apparently she had a colleague they called Nell as her French name was apparently unpronounceable! Apparently the scanners at this airport don’t do well with mobile tickets like we had, so she printed us two paper tickets and checked our bags. We then bumbled our way into the security line. It was long but moved at a comfortable pace.

Crust

There was no airport lounge for West Jet cardholders, so we scoped out our food options. We ended up at Crust where I got a fruit smoothie and avocado toast for $5.80 a piece. Each table had iPads you’d order from, payment station, and charging stations. I felt like I was in a casino!

When our food came, we were given a metal fork and a plastic knife to eat with. Ridiculous how we must be forced to eat with plastic utensils at airports and take off our shoes to go through customs because of one or two people… but America won’t do anything about gun control. Meanwhile, there’s another shooting flashing across the television screens as I feebly cut my toast with a flimsy knife. I can’t comprehend…

Flight Home

The plane departed half a hour late. I wrote a postcard, began reading a novel, and Matt got a fair way into a movie by the time we started moving on the runway. To my surprise, the runway was built on water – it was like a series of bridges and piers! I’d never seen that before!I was having trouble engaging with the novel I’d brought to read, Essex Serpent. Fortunately the flight was short! We got through customs in record time, picked up our bags, and made our way to the UP Express towards home.

Now I lay, tucked into bed with my puffy duvet. The traffic below our window can be heard splashing by in the puddles caused by the spring rain, mixed with the gurgle of the humidifier at my bedside, and CBC Radio 2 playing in the kitchen. It feels good to be home.

Parked cars between tall buildings in downtown New York
View from High Line Park in NYC
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Easter Monday in NYC

Window looking out a garage covered in snow

Matt woke me up with a kiss on the cheek. Pulling back the curtain, he reveal a winter wonderland of white fluffy snowflakes amassing outside our bedroom window. Despite the balmy weather, at least six inches of snow had fallen overnight!

We had seen the forecast, but figured it had to be a typo at the Weather Channel. You can’t go from 15C to snow with a high of 8C – but apparently you can!

The streets were an obstacle course. Few sidewalks had been cleared and we slipped and skipped over the puddles and slush, packed down by many feet. Us two Canadians were unprepared for this!

Rainbow bagel and cream cheese

Bagel Blvd

We went to Bagel Blvd by Astoria Blvd Station for breakfast. The bagels were huge! I tried the rainbow bagel with lox flavoured cream cheese and Matt had an egg sandwich. It came to $9 – our most affordable meal yet! The server said each colour of my bagel was a different flavour, but I didn’t feel like tearing each section apart to test this. It definitely had a distinct lemon and blueberry flavour though.

The washroom at this place was very odd. Along the wall were six large cardboard boxes of potpourri and along the other were pots of dead hiancyths and daffodils, wilted and brown. The room did not smell pretty either, despite all their efforts to cover up whatever smell was there.

We took the subway downtown. The train jerked along so violently, a bolt popped out and fell right in front of us! “The train is falling apart!” Matt exclaimed.

Flower breathing dragon

Macy’s Flower Show

We took the subway to Macy’s Flower Show. It was on the ground level of Macy’s, the second largest department store in the USA. Nestled between designer handbags and cosmetics were fairytale themed flower displays, tourists snapping pictures, and the occasional guide giving a loud verbal tour. It was a visual merchandiser or set designers dream gig!

Two people standing on a wood escalator

The store had what we presumed to be the originally escalators going up – wooden slats! We had never seen such a thing before. It was incredible to think they still remained in operation! A piece of history of daily life at our feet.

Ornate lighting fixture hanging from a vaulted ceiling

New York Public Library

We walked through Bryant Park to the library. It was in stark contrast to yesterday. No one was lounging in the lawn chairs. The carousel was still and covered up in plastic and the flowers were covered in snow!

The library was unlike anything I’d seen before. Floor to ceiling was carved was detailed wood carvings, ornate marble and ironwork! The heavy wood study desks were lit by brass lamps and all around were rows and rows of books. It was a researcher’s dream! Kinda wished I had an essay to write here… This was my kind of place!

Photo of buds on a tree with a fire escape in the background

High Line Park

We walked to High Line Park from the library. We stopped at the Loop along the way, an interactive art display of flip books you control with arm power, courtesy of the Province of Quebec and Ville de Montreal.

We were getting hungry, so stopped in a random pizza place along the way: Frankie Boys. I got a Cesar salad pizza slice, which was basically salad on top of bread. Matt had a slice with ricotta, basil, and olive oil. It was fresh, but nothing to write home about (but I guess that’s what I’m doing right now with this blog post – hi Mum!)

The High Line Park was built along above ground railway tracks. It was beautifully designed, with benches and simple gardens throughout. There were high end condos and high rises built right up against it to – we could see right into people’s windows!

Photo of the space between two buildings in the sun

Chelsea Market

At the end of the High Line, we descended the stairs to the Meat Packing district – a playground for the wealthy. We took a joined the jostling crowds to walk through Chelsea Market briefly, but all the high end boutiques and eatery’s were hard to admire through the throngs of people.

Photo of bowls of spices

Stone Street Coffee & Speakeasy

We took refuge at a small cafe called Stone Street Coffee. As we sipped our coffee, people kept coming and going through a camouflaged door in the wall – paneling with a coffee poster on it. I just presumed it was the staff entrance for a neighbouring bar, but when we asked the barista for advice on how to kill three hours in NYC, he told us the speakeasy behind that door opened in two hours!

He opened the door for us to have a peek inside the Bathtub Gin speakeasy. It was a dark room modelled like an old fashioned bar. Staff were inside busily cleaning and polishing glasses. Apparently they do a burlesque brunch on Sundays – that would have been fun!

Photo of tramway and highway

Roosevelt Island Tramway

We took the tram to Roosevelt Island. There was a visitor centre by the water. I asked the volunteer if there was somewhere I could read about the island. He was more than happy to tell me all about it.

Apparently the island had many different names. The indigenous people called it one thing, till the Dutch came, then the British came along, then two families named it, and then in the 1970’s the buildings were demolished and it was renamed Roosevelt Island.

Back in the day, there was an insane asylum, a smallpox hospital, a prison, an orphanage, and workhouses here. Basically, if you were unwanted by New York society, they sent you here where you were trapped on this island! Sounded awful!

Patsy’s Pizzeria

We took the tram back over to the mainland and found a bar offering happy hours. We sat near the pizza oven were it was toasty and warm. I sipped a $5 beer while Matt answered work emails, enjoying the scent of oregano in the air.

Menu and water glasses on a table

Don’t Tell Mama

We took the subway towards Times Square for our 6:30 reservation at Don’t Tell Mama. The restaurant had been recommended to Matt multiple times. They had a $32 prix fixe menu and live music. The restaurant service was good, the food came quickly, but the food was quite bland.

After our meal, we shifted over to the piano bar. Matt enjoyed the Elton John inspired pianist, singing along with the vocalist. We were feeling the wallet pinch, so decided to forego our Cast Party reservations at Birdland at 9:30 ($30 pp cover + 2 drink minimum pp) and stay at the bar. However, the next performer was obnoxious and when paired with our inhospitable waitress, we decided to head home at 10pm.

We wandered through Times Square on the way to the subway. We lamented that our flight was so late the next day, how we just wanted to be home and be back at work tomorrow. Travelling really does make one appreciate how fortunate we are to live the life we do in Toronto…

We took the subway back to Astoria. Now I sit in the dark writing this post with the pop song New York stuck in my head. Off in the distance, if I listen really closely, I can hear traffic and a siren, but beyond that there is silence.

Photo of a bridge and trees covered in snow

Easter Sunday in NYC

Photo of boarded up doors and windows on Astoria Blvd.

To start off the day, Matt put on CBC Choral Concert and I wore paper bunny ears as we ate SOMA bunny shaped chocolate with our morning coffee. Our host had bought more coffee to share and Matt made a full Bodum worth to catapult us into our second day in NYC.

We walked over to Astoria Provisions to get bagels to go. Matt remarked how the neighbourhood reminded him of Queen/Sherbourne in Toronto except with very expensive, clean cars everywhere.

Bagels were taking awhile, so we cancelled our order and I got a yellow muffin to go. I think it was cornbread. It was slightly sweet and crumbly, sticking to the paper wrapper.

Crowd of people in funny hats and bunny ears outside a church

Easter Bonnet Parade

We took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where crowd of people in Easter themed headgear mulling around. There were people in flashing bunny ears, wearing homemade creations of bunnies and straw, and haute couture toppers! It was a photographers dream!

Photo of a carousel horse behind a pot of pansies

Bryant Park

We walked to Bryant Square where my friend Rob told me there was a beautiful carousel. Matt stationed himself at a table while I galavanted around taking picture with my iPhone.

Bryant Park transported me to Europe. There were Parisian themed bakeries in little wood huts, bistro style seating, an old fashioned carousel playing Edith Piaf, and the scent of flowers in the air from all the pots of daffodils, hiancyths, and violets everywhere. It was heaven!

Unfortunately, the New York Public Library was closed for Easter Sunday so I couldn’t go in there. I had a lovely time going around the park, stopping to take pictures of the many delights in the square. It’s my favourite part of New York so far!

Street food vendors selling Thai and Mexican food

Empire State Building

We walked to the Empire State Building but it was $37 to go up, so we just looked at the unimpressive lobby before making our way towards Battery Park.

I was starting to feel a little faint when we serendipitously stumbled upon a street fair. Matt had a pretzel and hotdog from a street vendor earlier, but I hadn’t eaten everything all day but a muffin! Matt spotted tamales with black bean rice at a Mexican food vendor at the street fair. I’d never had tamales before – they looked interesting!

We sat on the curb as I devoured the meal, feeling blissfully happy. The tamales were delicious! Potato-like corn husks stuffed with spicy chicken – just what I needed!

Potted flowers at Bryant Park

Evolution Store

Fortified, we made our way to the Evolution Nature Store – Matt’s favourite store in NYC! When I asked him how to describe the store, he just said “Magical” with a gleam in his eye. It’s full of fossils, rocks, and other sciencey things. He got a second trilobite for our ‘science shelf’ at home, with a $1 dinosaur bone. He was like a kid in a candy store!

Glasses of water on a table as a person types on a charging phone

The Half Pint

I really needed to sit down – my feet were killing from all the walking and my ankles felt like they would snap! I spotted a sign that said “pint” near the university. We walked towards the Half Pint and settled in by the window. The waitress brought over a portable charger for us to charge our phones – I’d never seen that before!

Matt got a chocolate milk beer stout from SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria and I got a strawberry blonde beer from Spotzel Shiner in Texas! Matt hummed along to Ray Charles which was playing on the speakers as I took photos of the flowers on the table.

Much to our amusement, the bar had unlimited mimosas for $19 for 90 minutes. Tempting… but we just a got another pint while I bopped around to the music in my chair. I tried the Blue Liner Toasted Lager this time while Matt got a BrewDog Hazy Jane IPA. Matt’s earlier pick was our favourite – the texture was just like chocolate milk!

Green hedge outside a church building

Washington Park

We walked through Washington Park. It was a crowded with people! There was a grand piano under the arch, a three piece jazz band playing by the bushes, and someone felling felted pigeons. Around the park were classic old brick town houses with white columns and stone lions.

Water with the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty on the horizon

Battery Park

We took the subway down to Battery Park where we could see the Liberty Statue from afar. Then we wandered down to the Titanic Memorial and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn bridge suspensions and American flag

Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was my kind of hell. The pedestrian walkway was bordered on either side by a highway of cars that zoomed by. Beyond that was the water, far below us. The bridge was stuffed full of tourists with disgruntled cyclists ringing their bells trying to get through the endless crowds.

In my exhaustion, my mind went to the possible options of death: by car, drowning, trampling… or an angry cyclist blowing us all up! (Okay, not the latter) I put one foot in front of the other and kept reminding myself it would soon all be over – and that Matt said there was pizza at the end of this!

Toy cars on the ironwork of Brooklyn Bridge

Dinner in Brooklyn

At the bottom of the bridge was Juliana’s Pizza. We had planned to go to go there for dinner but there was a line up around the block! We tried the various other options beneath the bridge, but they were either closed, didn’t have pizza, or had a long wait for a table.

Yelp was not very helpful. It was suggesting middle eastern restaurants and places we’d passed the menus of that did not have pizzas! Tired and hungry, we eventually made our way up Henry Street which was lined with restaurants on one side. We went into the first place that had pizza: Bevacco.

New York skyline at sunset with the underside of the Brooklyn bridge silhouetted against the sky

Bevacco

The service at Bevacco left much to be desired, but it was beautifully decorated. It was like a French bistro straight out of 1900’s Paris! We ordered the spinach and ricotta pizza with a side of grilled sourdough with brûléed Parmesan.

After dinner I ordered the Amaro Tasting flight. I’ve been quite enjoying Amaro Nonino at home since having it at Terroni’s for Matt’s birthday. This flight included three amaros liqueurs: Amaro Meleti, Fernet Branco, and Amaro Averna. The latter was mine and Matt’s favourite. The Branco was hard to get through (cough syrup?) and the Meleti was extremely floral – I couldn’t decided if I liked it or not.

We got lost again on the subway ride home , but eventually found our way home. Now we sit in bed listening to minimalist classical music, relaxing after a long day. We did over 20km today – two days in a row! Now, sleep.

Photo of a street vendor selling costume bunny ears

Easter weekend in New York City

Pink blossoms against a blue sky

Journey to NYC

We took the UP Express to Toronto’s Pearson Airport and got through customs in a heartbeat. After finding our gate, we checked into the airport lounge. To our delight, we got in at no extra charge with Matt’s key! (Must have been because it was a small lounge) We took full advantage of the open bar and limitless kale quinoa salad and garlic linguine before boarding our flight.

Once on board, we watched the city below disappear into darkness as we left the ground, the city was a grid of white, orange, and yellow lights. Matt settled into Alien: Convenant on which I watched over his shoulder in appreciation of the cinematography. He said it was a scary film – just as well I couldn’t hear the audio or read any captions!

As we descended into New York, I found myself thinking about the Canada Reads novel American War I’d just finished reading yesterday, and Emily St. James novel Station Eleven from a couple years ago. New York looked like a very dark and lonely place from up above. Yet there was a twinkle of light and glow of spotlights in the clouds that gave the darkness life. The full moon shone above the plane, lighting the wisps of clouds with its glow as if we were in a gothic novel.

We got a bit lost on the transit there. We couldn’t find the bus stop for the bus Google told us to get on and the airport staff didn’t know either. So we got on a bus (free for the holidays!) and the driver dropped us off as a subway which turned out to be far off course. The transfers the bus driver gave us didn’t work on the subway, so we paid a fare.

Plastic plant on a windowsill behind a white curtain

AirBnB in Astoria

We eventually made it to our AirBnB. Despite the late hour of our arrival, our host greeted us with great energy! He was shocked we took public transit – apparently Uber costs about the same and is much faster!

The apartment was in an old building, reminding me of artist’s apartments in Chinatown of Toronto or Montreal. He’d put a lot of effort into decoration – retro kitch with a tropical beach theme. Not my style, but endearing.

Old fire alarm on a pole by a park

Easter in New York: Day One

We slept very well on the memory foam mattress in our quiet little room. Matt woke me up with a kiss on my cheek – he was eager to get coffee! Our hostess was out. Much to our amusement, Facebook’s recommendations of “highly rated restaurants in your neighbourhood” was 7/11 and McDonalds.

Photo of condiments on a table with a waiter in the background

Astoria Provisions

We consulted Yelp for the best coffee spot in the neighbourhood. Top of the list was Astoria Provisions. They had a whole range of avocado and toasts recipes – Matt joked a millennium like me would like the place. (Ironically he’s the one who ordered the ricotta and honey avocado toast)

Astoria Provisions was unassuming at a rundown looking intersection with a library, car dealership, and industrial buildings that had all seen better days. Inside, the cafe was all white tile with blue trim. Delicious pastries sat on cake stands on the counter with bouquets of wild flowers. We sat with my back to the window, the warm sun warm on my skin. The waiter served us water in a wine bottle. (I always feel like a lush pouring a full glass of water from a alcohol bottle)

We ordered two coffees (it was very good), pull apart bread with New York cheddar and butter, and I got peppery grits with thick slices of ‘sugary bacon’! Thought I’d get a Southern themed dish after reading American War – the book still haunts me!

The pull apart bread was like the white of a pretzel covered in cheese, salt, and butter. It took the edge off our hunger as we waited for our food. Much to our delight, we also got free refills of our delicious coffee!

The food was very good – flavourful, detailed, and good quality. We were so full we didn’t have to eat until dinner – yet the portions were very reasonable.

Suspension bridge and city skyline

Morning stroll from Astoria to Manhattan

We went for a little walk around our new neighbourhood after brunch to work off some of the carbs. Astoria Park was full of runners. The traffic filled the air with a constraint hymn as cars crossed the Robert Kennedy bridge overhead. There were workout stations along the park path with stretching instructions where buff old men huffed away and teenagers showed off at. Most of the trees bore bare branches, but much to my excitement we saw one cherry tree in bloom – a sign of spring!

From Astoria Park, the skyline looked like it was made from LEGO. The high rises rose up in a blocky and rectangular fashion. There was one very tall and narrow building that rose up far above all the others – like a stack of grey single LEGO bricks, using every last one in the box!

We walked to the Guggenheim, crossing the bridge we’d walked beneath at the park. The chain link fence rattled as cars zoomed past us on the highway, exhaust fumes making us dizzy with the noise, height, and speed. As we walked over the water, the chain link fence stopped. Now there was just a blue railing between us and the long drop below – no suicide prevention here! The concrete of the suspension bridge shook, jiggled beneath my feet. I felt queezy.

Pedestrian bridge to Manhattan through a chain link tunnel

As we descended the bridge onto Randall’s Island, we found ourselves in a chain link tunnel. The speeding cars were above our heads now, making me feel better. Just the caw-thunk-caw-thunk of tires. We walked along the water for a bit, then over Wards Island Bridge, a pedestrian draw bridge, and then we were in Manhattan!

We walked in Central Park and sat on a bench for awhile. We watched the dogs chase squirrels and young families with their strollers. Daffodils poked up from the brown leaves and sparrows tweeted in the old growth trees. The smell of burnt sugar wafted over from the street vendors, mixing with the ode-de-dogue after the springtime thaw.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

As we headed towards the Guggenheim, we saw the grand gates of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. There was a big sign for an exhibition titled Access + Ability. As an accessibility professional, I of course had to go! So, Matt wandered off into Central Park while I paid admission for the Cooper Hewitt.

Adult admission was $18. I was given a big stylus that was attached to my ticket number. I could press the end of the stylus to a exhibition description and it’s information would be saved to my ticket number. I could then log in from home and see all the pieces I’d like from the museum! They also had interactive screens where you could design things like a hat out of copper and aluminium (at least, that’s what I did)

The museum was in one of the Carnegie family’s mansions. It was extremely ornate – hard to imagine one person being able to afford this, let alone multiple houses! The security guard told me they made their fortune in steel.

The accessibility exhibit had many pieces I’d already seen. Even my friend’s designer walking stick was featured! I was amused to see HumanWare’s braille display and Microsoft’s Inclusive Design toolkit there too. There were lots of wearable tech examples, and an interesting radio for people with dementia that looked like a Frisher-Price version of a vintage radio you could turn on or off with a big button.

Next door was an exhibition on sound in design and our associations with sound. Upstairs with the permanent collection, including an impressive room of contemporary jewellery. It was very interesting.

I exited through the gift shop. As my biological clock is ticking away, I was smitten with the “Future Designer” onesies, Frank Lloyd Wright Shapes for Babies, and braille children books. But I resisted temptation…

I met Matt in the courtyard of the museum. We sat next to a Parisian family sitting in the sun, while children amused themselves in the chairs that were like giant spinning tops. While I’d been in the museum, Matt had been sitting on a rock in Central Park enjoying the sun.Photo looking up at the ceiling of the Guggenheim

Guggenheim

We walked next door to the Guggenheim. It was crawling with people. The entrance fee was expensive and none of the current exhibitions appealed to me, so we decided to go for a walk in Central Park instead.

Egyptian artifact over blossoms in Central Park

Central Park

We wandered aimlessly through Central Park, taking whichever path took our fancy. I stopped to take pictures of the spring flowers everywhere with Matt taking his signature panoramic photos whenever we reached a good viewpoint.

We exited the park at the Museum of Natural History. It was even more crowded than the Guggenheim! So, we sat outside on a bench and admired the planetarium from a distance. It was far too nice weather to spend inside a museum anyway – especially such a crowded one!

Our phone batteries were running low, so I rummaged through my bag for my charging cable and battery. Turned out both Matt and I had forgotten our charging cable. We can’t get home without Google Maps, so went on a mission for a charging cable.

Photo of flowed for sale outside a shop

Goodwill

While on our mission, I spotted a Goodwill along the way. So Matt left me to peruse the aisles while he continued the hunt for an iPhone cable. The prices were rather steep at this Goodwill, but I found two beautiful blazers for $20. It’s so hard to find blazers that fit well and I go through them so quickly as they are a wardrobe staple for me.

Photo of a person reading a menu

Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar

Matt did a search for ramen in the area. The top hit was across the road at Zurutto. They had a truffle ramen – I was sold! Matt ordered the signature dish and we each got a bottle of Japanese beer: Kagua and Ozeno Yukidoke. We had some pork dumplings to start – everything was delicious! I woofed down my ramen – I was hungry! We had skipped lunch after all.

Time Warner Building

After scoping out the MET, we walked up Broadway then over to the Time Warner Building. Someone had a cat in a backpack with a bubble window and we passed condo listings that started at 3 million! Whoa!

A friend had recommended Bouchon Cafe there and to check out the sculptures on display. There was no seating at the cafe and our feet were so tired, so we ended up at boring old Starbucks. I knew it from a business trip to NYC years ago when I worked in the fashion industry. (Hard to forget the place an old man tried to proposition me with a purse stuffed with American dollar bills!)

Person reading the Turendot theatre program at the Met

The Metropolitan Opera

We had balcony seats at the MET for an 8:30pm showing of Turandot by Puccini. The front doors had a crazy lineup, but the doors at the garage level were much more civilized. We went in once the doors opened at 7:45pm and quickly changed out of our walking clothes into our opera outfit!

We checked our coats and knapsack for a total of $9, then preordered prosecco for the second intermission and got comfy in our seats. The theatre was gold with red velvet with a scalloped ceiling and Sputnik looking crystal chandeliers. We admired the two red concert harps in the orchestra pit below. I’ve never seen a red harp before!

Instead of surtitles over the stage like at the Canadian Opera Company, they had little screens in front of each seat that you could turn on or off; English or German subtitles. The screens were shaded so that you wouldn’t be disturbed by your neighbour’s screen if you preferred to have none in front of you.

Ceiling of the Met theatre

The set was lavish as expected. The story took place in Peking and had acrobats doing flips and fight scenes. The first intermission came quickly and the singers came out to bow. We’d never seen a curtain call between acts before!

We lined up for coffee during first intermission. It was horrible – like gas station coffee at $5 a pop. Matt even found a piece of plastic in his cup. He was not impressed. What with the run down interior of the theatre and poor coffee experience, this did not meet our expectations for a world class theatre!

The intermission was very long – perhaps due to the complex set design. The set got “Oooohs” from the audience when revealed. I’d never seen a set so detailed in my life! Matt and I traded opera glasses to get a good look. The production was indeed impressive!

We picked up our plastic flutes of prosecco from the waiter we placed our order with and tried to find a good place for a selfie to commemorate another bucket list item checked off – the MET! Sadly, the lighting at the MET is not made for pictures.

Sitting back at our seats, I got chatting with the student sitting next to me. He goes to the opera or ballet once a week – apparently there are $20 standing tickets! Tomorrow was his birthday, so he’d treated himself to a sitting ticket. I thought that was nice.

After the opera, we made our way to the subway. We passed Trump Tower on the way – lots of cop cars around it. We walked along the edge of Central Park to the 57th Street subway entrance where we hoped on an F train towards Queens. We were both very tired and it was a long wait for the Q69 bus home so we hopped in a taxi to our cozy bed.

In the darkness of our room, Matt and I discussed the opera from under a puffy comforter. Matt was was disappointed with the tenor, acoustics, venue, and serving beverages in plastic cups. However, we both agreed the set design was excellent. Matt said he’d be interested to see the MET on screen and not have to deal with a venue that cuts corners everywhere – or just go to Berlin, Milan, Paris, or home in Toronto where our expectations are met/exceeded! Matt certainly has seen opera in a lot of amazing places!

Now I lay in bed writing this post on my phone. Its almost 3am now and I have the opera replaying in my head… There is the soft hum of a TV in the next room and the muffled sound of our hosts voices through the thick walls. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Brooklyn popcorn trucks parked in a garage

Atlantic Adventure: Last Day in Halifax

photo of a lighthouse in the fog
When we awoke the next morning, we discovered our AirBnB had no water. Neither of us had slept well either, making us two grumpy travelers. We packed up our bags and jumped in the car in search of coffee. However, a quick Yelp and Google scan of the area showed no coffee shops open until we reached downtown Halifax!

The landscape was covered in thick fog. Boats hung like ghosts in the water, sea and sky the same colour in the grey morning air. As we neared Peggy’s Cove, Matt pointed out how there were less trees and large boulders randomly dropped by glaciers. It reminded me of Iceland in a way.

Peggy’s Cove

We arrived in Peggy’s Cove at 7am. Hardly anyone was there and nowhere was open. Peggy’s Cove is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, but we couldn’t see much through the thick fog!

Train Station Bike & Bean Cafe

We retraced our steps to the Train Station Bike & Bean Cafe, a bike shop and cafe that opened at 7:30am. It was a very sweet place with lots of cozy seating. We each got a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, feeling much more alive with every sip and bite. Commuters stopped in on their way to work and everyone seemed to know one another. It was a friendly place.

photo of Peggys Cove lighthouse

Peggy’s Cove: Take Two!

The sun came out by the time we returned to Peggy’s Cove around 8:15am. There were a few photographers and videographers out on the rocks. The tour buses didn’t arrive until a bit later, giving us adequate time to snap some pictures of the famous lighthouse without swarms of people around.

photo of Peggys Cove
Once I’d exhausted the lighthouse, I wandered into the small village of Peggy’s Cove to take pictures of fishing boats. The fog returned without warning! My pictures went to blue to white sky without a transition. Fog goes well with fishing boats though, photographically speaking.

photo of white ricks in ocean water
Matt and I walked up to the Visitor Centre where we found a little path behind the parking lot. It led down to the water where we could enjoy the splash of waves and rocky landscape in solitude. Matt and I sat on a bench to watch the water for a bit before heading back in the car to continue our drive into Halifax.

photo of an empty taster glass at Propellor Brewery

Halifax

Propellor Brewery

Matt had spoken many times of Propellor Brewery from his days living in Halifax. It was his favourite Nova Scotian craft brewery! We stopped in at 10:30 (Nova Scotia serves beer a hour earlier than in Ontario) and shared a taster flight of pilsner, honey wheat, fiestbier, and a rye IPA. Our favourite was the honey wheat. It was a sweet, light, easy drinking beer.

photo of coffee cups

Gardens & Coffee

We decided to pick up some coffee before going to the Citadel to watch the noon time canon. Matt took me to Just Us, a large cafe in an old mansion that sells fair trade coffee and treats. They made a very good cup of coffee there!

We walked through the Halifax Public Gardens on our way to and from the cafe. I was very impressed by the landscaping of the gardens – it reminded me of fine gardens of Europe! It had a gazebo, a Victorian fountain, and lots of shaded benches to sit at where you could admire the pristine flowerbeds.

photo of a glowing lamp on a stone wall

Halifax Citadel

When Matt had lived in Halifax, he had always enjoyed the sound of the noon day canon at the Halifax Citadel. No matter the weather, you could depend on it for the time! However, he hadn’t actually seen it go off since he was a young boy, so we made our way up the hill in time to witness the daily rituals.

The canon was manned by five people in traditional military costume. It used 1LB of black gunpowder with no projectile. Apparently they used to use 4LB of powder which is the amount necessary to project a canon ball, but it would set off car alarms and shake windows. So they don’t do that anymore!

After the canon, we went to check out the Vimy Ridge exhibit. We walked into a recreation of a WWI trench. I was very impressed with the wooden periscopes you could look through with coloured photographs of Vimy Ridge over the top of the trench. It was very immersive and well done!

photo of a ceiling fan on a blue ceiling

The Economy Shoe Shop Restaurant

For lunch, Matt took me to the Economy Shoe Shop, a pub he used to frequent when he worked in the Halifax film and television industry. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but it was huge! Reminded me a bit of the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto with its fake tree and old-fashioned ornate wood interior.

We ordered the nachos which Matt swore by. He got a pint of Propellor’s IPA and I got a watermelon wheat beer from Nine Locks in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. It was one of the best watermelon beers I’d ever had! The beer was very refreshing. Our waitress was wonderful as well – the Shoe Shop was all round a great place to go!

photo of a coromont in the Halifax Harbour

Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk

After lunch, we strolled down Salter Street and down to the Halifax harbour. There was a commuter ferry shooting across the harbour, which is part of the regular public transit service in Halifax! Apparently you can take a ferry from Dartmouth to Halifax just like you’d take a subway from East York to downtown Toronto!

The Drive Home

Doggy Disappointment

One of the highlights of the trip was finally meeting the breeders of the rare dog breed I want to adopt. We had tried to visit during the Christmas holidays, then I’d called on Monday and again today in addition to email and Facebook message to try and set up a time this trip. With no success, we decided just to drive by to see what the kennel looked like. It was set back from the road with a high hedge, so we couldn’t see much. We left disappointed – but at least we now know where it is. We figured we’d try again at Christmas, and if that still fails, we may have to look elsewhere.

photo of marshland bordered by evergreen trees

Joggins

We made a stop in Joggins on our way home to Moncton. It had a fossil beach that Matt had always wanted to visit but never found the time to when living in the Maritimes. Sadly, the Joggins Fossil Centre was closed early for the off season. So, we stopped to enjoy the view from a bridge opposite Matt’s family land on the Bay of Fundy. He’s always been curious to see Cape Enrage from across the water!

photo of a winding river sparkling in the sun

Apple River

We drove past Joggins to Apple River, a tiny collection of houses set back from the coast. The road up there was narrow, windy, and bordered with trees and shrubs – hardly a house in sight! As a kid, Matt had a pen pal from Apple River. He had sent a message in a bottle that Matt had picked up on the beach at Cape Enrage. We stopped on the bridge the that went over the river, imagining a little boy throwing a bottle over its edge many years ago on a sunny day just like this.

Moncton

We drove back to Moncton where Matt’s mother had a huge spread out on the table. It was a feast well worthy to end our whirlwind Atlantic Adventure! We’d traveled over 1800 km in three days – what a road trip!

Atlantic Adventure: Cabot Trail to Black Point

photo taken through a car windsheild on a rainy day with a vintage Airstream RV ahead on the road

The Cabot Trail

We left our AirBnB in North Sydney at 9am. We hadn’t slept well so were quite groggy. The drive out was treacherous! It was raining with heavy cloud and fog obstructing the epic highland views. There were lots of road works too, where we had to navigate around big chunks of rocks, on one lane of highway with deep gullies below! However, even in the heavy rain, the friendly Nova Scotians would wave as we passed!

photo of a coffee cup on a map

The Clucking Hen Cafe

We stopped at the first decent spot we saw along the Cabot Trail – a cafe and bakery called the Clucking Hen. It was a nice spot overlooking the water. The staff were very friendly, helpful and the Cafe offerings were great! We each got a big bowl of oatmeal porridge with fresh blueberries and brown sugar for $4 and a piping hot cup of coffee for $2 with what seemed like bottomless refills. We reviewed our map, watching the rain fall outside the window. We got some oat biscuits and macaroons to go in a paper bag to sustain us for the road.

photo of tree covered slopes in the fog

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The Cabot Trail took us in and out of the the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We made a short stop on their visitor centre where I picked up a park map. I’d love to come here my mum here sometime – I think she’d really like it! I’d really like to come back when the view isn’t shrouded in fog and sheets of rain.

I was also impressed to learn the park offers a picnic service! They pack you a wicker basket with a checkered cloth for a scenic picnic. So sophisticated! An Instagrammer’s delight…

Matt and I began calling out “Rocks!” whenever we could see any rocks of the coastline. We couldn’t see the highlands or waterways through the fog, so rocks became the next most exciting thing.

photo of a hut in Neil's Harbour

Neil’s Harbour

The fog began to lift by the time we arrived at Neil’s Harbour, a small fishing village along the Cabot Trail. It had a lighthouse that sold ice cream within, and a very rustic chowder but that was packed full of people, and boats at the dock. All of this was draped in fog, giving the village a ghostly feel.

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Cabot Trail Lookouts

Our AirBnB host had recommended we hike the Skyline Trail. Due to the time we’d lost with roadworks and poor weather conditions, we couldn’t stop for a hike. I had come prepared with Wellington boots, waterproof pants, and a hooded rain coat though!

Fortunately the rain and the fog subsided in the afternoon. We made use of the many lookout points along the Cabot Trail. We stopped just long enough to snap a couple pictures then hopped back in the car. I was often running from one point of the lookout to the other to utilize time better.

I had no idea if my pictures even turned out! Matt and I both agreed we had to come back one day and spend more time – contemplating a Cape Breton and Gros Morne road trip in the fall of 2019.

We turned off the Cabot Trail at Margaree. Our farewell view was a picture perfect farming community nestled in green rolling hills with a river winding through it. It was like something out of a picture book!

photo of a winding river between tree covered mountains

Scotland V2

Scotland had risen quite high on my Bucket List since getting into the TV show Shetland. So, Matt made a point to point out all the Scottish names we passed: Inverness, Skye, and New Glasgow! We wondered how similar the Scottish highlands were to Cape Breton.

Antigonish

We stopped in Antigonish for dinner. We went into four different restaurants looking for affordable menu options under $15 that had a good protein hit. Eventually we gave up, settling at the Main Street Cafe. I had the lobster mac ‘n cheese and Matt had the mushroom and steak penne. We were very grumpy and hungry by then.

photo of a street lamp lighting evergreen trees in the dark night

Black Point

We arrived at our AirBnB in Black Point outside of Halifax at 9pm. It was a rustic hostel full of young backpackers. We were greeted by a woman who made she we knew she was ‘just filling in’ and was really a computer engineer student – not a professional hostel hostess. Oy…

When I went downstairs to look up the wifi password, I noticed a chalkboard with various information about the hostel and nearby attractions: yoga on the beach, lobster boil, farmers market etc – and that the beach was a 5 minute walk away! So I told Matt I was going on a walk and went on my way.

As soon as I left the house, I was greeted by the distant sound of waves. Following the noise I soon found the rocky shore, an expanse of black water in the darkness, breaking into white swirls and spray around the boulders. The air was damp with fog, the street lamps breaking the night with triangles of light on the road. Dew glistened on the evergreen trees that lined the road like glass decorations on a Christmas tree. The air smelt like the sea and beyond the street lamps, all I could see was deep, unknown blackness.

Both Matt and our previous AirBnB host had stressed never to go near the dark rocks on Peggy’s Cove. Apparently people get swept out to sea by sudden swells in the water every year – never to be heard of again! These words of warning added a sense of fear to the otherwise serene surrounding. I kept my distance from the water. Being a child rural Niagara, I have no clue how to read the signs of the sea, beyond my common sense!

After standing and listening to the waves for awhile, I headed back to the hostel. Walking on the opposite side of the road now, I could enjoy the chirp of crickets in the long dewy grass. Condensation sparkled on my autumn jacket adding to the allure of the evening. Soon it was just me and the crickets, the crunch of stones on cement underfoot, as the waves faded again into the distance. It was a peaceful end to a whirlwind day!

photo of grassy cliffs sloping down into the see
Cape Breton Highlands

Atlantic Adventure: PEI to Cape Breton

photo of red cliffs and low tide at Cape Enrage
After three relaxing days at Cape Enrage, we headed back to Moncton as the springboard for our road trip. Our Atlantic Adventure will take us through three provinces: Prince Edward Island (PEI), Nova Scotia, and back to New Brunswick in three days with stops in Charlottetown, Cape Breton, and Halifax.

Rush Hour in Moncton

Matt and I left Moncton at 8am. Rush hour traffic was surprising heavy for such a small city. Matt started dancing in his seat at one light, trying to get his hourly stand goal in for his fitness tracker – and the woman in the car in front of us started enthusiastically dancing too! We’re not in Toronto anymore 😉

photo of Confederation Bridge

Confederation Bridge

The Confederation Bridge is as important part of the “PEI Experience” as Matt put it. We took the Trans Canada to the 995 past Murray Beach Provincial Park to approach the Confederation Bridge from the side along the Acadian Coastal Drive. It was barely visible on the horizon across the Northumberland Strait at first, but it soon came into focus.

Matt reminisced on watching it being built, walking across the bridge with his mother when it first opened, and taking the ferry along side it another time when there was still service. It is the longest bridge in Canada – maybe North America!

The toll to cross is $47 on the way back, but no coat on the way in. It was so long I couldn’t see it’s end – just disappeared into the sky! At 80km/hr, it took us about ten minutes to cross the bridge. Even though I’m not as fascinated by feats of engineering as Matt is, the Confederation Bridge was still fun to cross!

Charlottetown, PEI

The residential area of Charlottetown reminded me of Niagara-on-the-lake with its pristine colonial houses. Downtown was very underwhelming – a bunch of tourist traps and posh oyster bars. It looked like it be a nice place to go for dinner if you like seafood!

Confederation Building/Province House

To our surprise, the Confederation Building (Province House) was under restoration – during Canada 150!!! Apparently it had been closed for two years and was expected to remain closed for a total of five. Of all historical sites to be closed during Canada’s 150th birthday, you’d think the birthplace of Confederation would be open!

Receiver Coffee Company

We wandered down to the water, past a large cruise ship and fancy pleasure boats. Anne of Green Gables and giant lobsters were everywhere!

We stopped in Receiver, a charming bistro on a pedestrian street. I got a blueberry tea and a pecan square for $7 and we sat on the patio while Matt caught up on the news. Someone at a table next to us had a lovely looking salad and poached egg – looks like a good spot for brunch!

Outside Charlottetown

The drive was very pleasant. There were lush green rolling hills, vibrant red dirt showing through the tractor marks, sweet old farmhouses, and trees all along the property lines. There were lots of vegetable stands along the road. Most sold potatoes, but one had a whole bunch of pumpkins!

There were an awful lot of for sale signs along the road. I had been amazed to learn you could buy a huge house outright on the Bay of Fundy for less than the minimum down payment on a tiny condo downtown in Toronto or to buy a nice hybrid car these days! Now every time I see a for sale sign at a particularly beautiful place, I romanticized for a brief moment what it would be like to leave it all behind in the big city and live in the country again. Matt’s plan to retire down East is more and more appealing.

photo of weathered fishing huts at Wood Islands Provincial Park

Wood Islands Ferry

Pre-boarding

We arrived at the ferry a little ahead of the mandatory 1 hour pre-departure time. The Northumberland Ferry Limited (NFL) from Wood Island to Caribou cost $77 for our vehicle and only traveled every couple hours, so we couldn’t afford to miss it!

We were the third car to arrive. We gave the gatekeeper the confirmation number for our online reservation and pulled up right in front! We wandered along the perimeter, down to the wharf, and over to Wood Islands Provincial Park where there was a lighthouse museum and fisherman huts. It was very picturesque!

There was a really yummy looking menu outside a seafood takeout hut on the wharf (scallop burger anyone?) but it was closed for the season. We wandered around taking pictures until we could see the ferry pulling in. Cars began emptying a little before 12:30 and we began boarding at 12:38. We were the first vehicle on!

photo of a lifeboat on a ferry

On board the ferry

There was a cafeteria on board where you could get seafood chowder for $6.25. As a treat, we decided to get a bowl to share between us in addition to the egg salad sandwiches Matt’s mom had packed us that morning. There was an information booth, a charging station, and free wifi. Apparently there’s live music during peak times too!

We split our time between the top deck, mid deck, and cafeteria. Matt loved how the wind pulled on his moustache! There was a beautiful collie dog on the top deck, it’s long hair blowing majestically in the wind.

We drove off the ferry ramp at 2:19 at Caribou, Nova Scotia. It was fun being right up front and watching the dock come closer and the boat attach to the plank!

Cape Breton

Big Spruce Brewing

Our first stop in Cape Breton was a brewery near Baddeck that I’d seen in a travel guide on the ferry. It was just off the Trans Canada highway, on a hill overlooking the Bras d’Or Lake.

Big Spruce Brewing was a very small brewery with a boutique and screened patio. We ordered a taster flight of three beers at $2 each: an Apricot Milkshake IPA made with lactose, Cereal Killer oatmeal stout, and our favourite – Regetta Ale. In the screened patio, staff were sorting through large tubs of green hops while sipping glasses of beer. The place had a very contemporary hippy, indie feel to it! It was a pleasant stop along the way.

photo of an empty taster glass from Big Spruce Brewery

AirBnB in Sydney, Nova Scotia

The drive from the brewery to North Sydney was particularly beautiful: thick forest, layers of mountains, and blue water. We’d love to come back in fall sometime to see this all a burst of colour!

Our AirBnB was in North Sydney. It had been tricky finding cheap accommodations along the Cabot Trail. It was a lovely old house, decorated very eclectically. Our room had Victorian portraits on the wall, which I found rather creepy, but our hostess was very friendly.

photo of the Cape Breton highlands at dusk

Ceilidh at the Gaelic College

One of the things I’d wanted to do this trip was go to an traditional east coast concert! Matt found a listing of events on the Nova Scotia Tourism site, one of which was a ceilidh at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s.

The college was just off of the Trans Canada Highway. There were two college staff, one on the keyboard, another on the fiddle. The concert was held on a hall that reminded me of summer camp. Entrance was $10 and we were the youngest people in the audience! There was no food or drink for sale and the energy was somber – I felt like I was at a church service!

The music was good and the personal anecdotes were interesting, but we were looking for something more lively. Maybe I’ll go back one day for Gaelic lessons – that would be fun! We decided to check out another music venue after a few songs.

photo of a full pint glass at Governor's Pub

Governor’s Pub

There was daily live music from 8-11pm at Governor’s Pub in Sydney, NS. The music was on the second floor of a charming old building overlooking the Sydney River. There were 6 musicians sitting in a circle and the place was packed! We got the last two seats in the house at 9pm – it was busy for a Wednesday night! They had Big Spruce on tap, so we ordered the Regatta (red) Ale and the Kitchen Party Pale Ale.

Our server was fantastic! Matt had the local haddock (in Big Spruce beer batter!) and I ordered the Mira Bay cold water shrimp fritti.

Driving home

After all of Matt’s driving today, it was my turn to drive home. Heavy fog had rolled in with the moon hidden behind the clouds (apparently the Northern Lights may have been visible had it not been cloudy). Fortunately our AirBnB was just 20 minutes away! We crawled into bed and went to sleep.