Author Archives: ggwatt

Bruce

And now we come to the big day – the reason we are in New York. For those of you who don’t know, check the title again.

We’ve decided that today will be the David Bowie retrospective and the top of the Empire State Building, but first check out the half price tickets for a play. On the way we see a line up outside Come From Away, the play about Gander and 9/11 so we join it – turns out it’s for last minute tickets for the Wednesday matinee. Ah ha. We’re flexible so we change our plans and join it for 45 minutes before being told there are no more tickets. We get to the half price booth and see a young woman with a clipboard about what shows are playing.

The “official” half price place has a massive line up.

The line up goes up and back to the red “tkts” sign four times and then jams itself into a smaller winding area. According to the woman it is likely 2-3 hours. Not happening. Instead she takes us across the street to her company’s office where there is no one. They are a third party seller who have face value or marked up tickets available depending on the play. After discussion we decide on the afternoon matinee of “A Bronx Tale” a musical written by and starring Chaz Palminteri who has been in a lot of films and tv shows. Bowie and the Empire State Building can wait until tomorrow.

The theme was a standard one – think Westside Story but Italians versus Blacks instead but the voices of the cast were amazing. Well worth it both in time and money – no where near the $600 – $1200 for Hamilton or $300 plus for Come From Away – if you could get one.

To kill some time before the show we walked down to view Grand Central Terminal- the most visited tourist attraction in New York (although how they could figure that out is beyond me) and then Macy’s, the world’s largest department store (which I had thought was GUM in Moscow…)

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Along the way, we walked the Library Way. There were quite a few plaques quoting famed authors leading up to the New York Public Library. Perhaps some Republicans should take the same walk.

Two observations:

1. That Descartes recognizes that previous centuries to the 17th had “best men” worthy of conversation and

2. The one woman is all by herself. Not a reader?

New York Public Library

The view from the ladies’ fitting room at Macy’s

Then the play

After a rest back at the hotel, it was off to dinner at Becco. They had a neon sign “Becco welcomes Bruce to Broadway”. I’m thinking Bruce frequents Becco’s. It was incredibly busy – we had not made a reservation but they managed to find a table for us.

Our view

It was a really fun spot to have dinner. Over the hour and a half there must have been 150 people going in or out and we had a chance to chat with some New Yorkers.😀

The first great thing was they had a list of maybe 50 wines – all at $31.00. The next was the house special at $24.95 – a three pasta combination with your choice of antipasto (roasted vegetables, octopus salad and fish in tomato sauce) or Caesar salad. We had one of each and shared them.

Then they bring three pans of different kinds of pasta – spaghetti with basil and red sauce, gnocchi with bacon and cauliflower and semolina cakes in cream sauce. You can take as much as you want and have more if you wish. There was NO chance when they came around the second time we’d have more, but it was fantastic.

The pans of pasta are quite large.

Then it was off to Bruce.


For those of you who don’t know the story, in January we “won” a lottery to buy tickets to see him in New York. It was an amazing concert, just him, his guitars and a piano.* He has been doing 5 concerts a week since September in a theatre that has only 975 seats. He tells his story and sings songs which kind of match what he’s talking about. Most of what he talks about is directly from his recent book. What was really interesting was his confession was that most of what he writes about – working 9-5 etc. he has never done and yet his songs were all so successful. He didn’t know how to drive but wrote Born to Run etc. Now my confession. Everything I read said no cell phones or cameras. Then, just before the performance they announce that when the house lights come up people can take photos with their cell phones. None of mine turned out so I stole this off the internet. I know I know but what the heck. This photo is the best I got with my old iPhone – at least it shows how close we were – 4th row. You’d think he could stop moving!

The Setlist – the Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out came with quite a tribute to Clarence Clemons – from him and the audience.

He has received a bit of a bad time because every show is exactly the same – right down to the jokes and there is a TelePrompTer, but after all, if you go to any Broadway show everything is exactly the same – and generally speaking, that’s why you go. *Patti comes on and does two songs and then leaves – no speaking. There’s no encore and then when you leave there are a couple of hundred people waiting at the stage door for a glimpse. I’m not sure if he’ll ever tour again. He sleeps in his own bed every night and we figure the average price is about $500 (times 975 seats = $487500/night) and he is now committed to the end of the year which will be a 16 month run or $34,125,000.00. Now I know he will have some expenses but still…

So there you have our Wednesday in New York – and not an obnoxious person to be found all day!

Tomorrow – Bowie and we are worn out!

“It’s the Buildings, St@$^d”**

(** Thanks to Bill Clinton)

First of all, does anyone else out there get booked into rooms for the physically challenged as often as we do?

No jacuzzi tub for weary walkers. And while we are on subject of washrooms, the Solomon D. Guggenheim Museum apparently doesn’t want you lingering in their’s.

Anyway, on to Day 2. We took the Uptown Hop On Hop Off bus and toured around Central Park seeing the Dakota, where Lennon was murdered, the famed Apollo Theatre, Harlem, the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine and, sadly, Trump Tower. What was heartening though was that of the 32 people on the upper deck of the bus, only one took a picture.

The first two give some small idea of how large this Cathedral is from one end to the other.


Pensive reflection

This cool sculpture was just tucked away in a corner.


No gargoyles, just whimsical figures.

Now the disappointing part of this visit. On the bus the guide said that the church had the only accessible rooftop view of New York available to the public. Now we have seen an awful lot of cathedrals and churches and would have likely given this one a pass until he said that so off we jumped. After kibbutzing with the volunteer ticket seller and buying our tickets ($8.00 each) I said we were looking forward to the climb. “Oh, that tour isn’t available today.” She was then no longer interested in friendly banter since that might mean we would ask for our money back. To be fair, her fellow volunteer did seem to be uncomfortable and apologized to Terry when we finally left.

The thing I have found most amazing are the buildings of New York. They are traditionally old and incredibly modern and often side by side, or one towering over another. And now some of those buildings.


So happy to see the “stoops”


A mosque founded by Malcolm X before he turned away from Islam.


The Dakota

The Solomon D. Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum was amazing.


The exhibition was of Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor, who I am sure you have heard of as much as I had. Nevertheless, his work was quite incredible, if named rather obscurely.

Spoon Woman

The Leg

The Head

The Forest

Dog

And, of course, Woman With Her Head Cut Off

Then it was off to MoMA via a stroll through Central Park…


and the Apple on Fifth

MoMA

Henri Rousseau

Henri Matisse

Rene Magritte

Jackson Pollack

Bodys Isek Kingelez

“Kingelez’s vibrant, ambitious sculptures are created from an incredible range of everyday materials and found objects—colored paper, commercial packaging, plastic, soda cans, and bottle caps—all meticulously repurposed and arranged.”

Piet Mondrian – I love this. I had no idea when I took it that this woman was peering in. It was total serendipity.

Vincent Van Gogh

This is The Olive Tree. It is the pair to another we all know too well.


A work in progress

The Original (completed…lol)

Tuesday evening was a night tour – more interesting architecture (and lights).

The Obnoxious Blog

Terry tells me it might not be advisable to be snapping photos of shoes, so I’m going to do obnoxious people for awhile. Of course, this might be slightly more dangerous but there you go.

We are in a restaurant at 9:10 pm and the only other people are staff and these four – a young couple and his parents. The young woman keeps saying “I probably won’t be in the wedding.” “It’s not likely I’ll be in the wedding” “‘I probably won’t be in the wedding ” Can you say “I’m desperate to be in the wedding“?

Then she goes on to talk about her really good friend (young man) who is going to become her new roommate. “He is really really annoying but he is my annoying friend.” “I know he’s annoying, but I can handle him” “He’s really annoying and his girlfriend is more annoying and I’ll just handle him.” Can you say “He’s almost certainly saying the same thing to his in-laws”?

Now you may very well ask how I know this. Good question. It is because, despite the almost empty restaurant, she was so loud Terry and I had difficulty making conversation. Unbelievable!

New York, New York

I have made a new reservation. I am never drinking the night before I get on a plane at 8:45 am again. It just makes the flight just too damn long.

Anyway, here we are after another joyous Air Canada flight* -delayed out of Vancouver by an hour thus arriving in Newark an hour late. AC may be the only airline unable to make up time in the air. The drive into NYC took twice as long as normal because:

1. On Sunday was the Puerto Rican Day parade thus 1,000,000 people came into the city and all sorts of streets were closed to traffic and

2. The Tony awards were that night as well, closing more streets in Manhattan. Our driver -“We New Yorkers don’t like award shows. They mess up traffic.”

After arriving at the Yotel Hotel and checking in electronically- no front desk, we dump our bags and head off in search of some edible food. (See sarcastic * above).

The view south from our 15th story perch. That’s the Hudson River and right where where Captain Sullenberger “landed” his Airbus 320 a number of years ago.

Our hotel is at 10th Avenue and 42nd Street, just 7 blocks from Times Square. It was a madhouse, and as far s I know there was nothing special going on there. At one point I thought “This is the only time I’m coming up here – just too many damn people.” That may change but still…

We found a lovely little Italian restaurant just off Broadway where we ate and Terry drank. Then it was more walking, finding the theatre where we will see Springsteen, seeing the Brill Building where Carol King and many others got their start, looking at all the other tourists looking at the lights and locating where the ball comes down. It was a lot to do when one isn’t feeling 100%, let me tell you.

Monday dawned a little cloudy and after an interesting breakfast – ever ordered an mushroom omelet with home fries and got an omelet, home fries, cold mushrooms on the side AND two sunny side up eggs?–we boarded a Hop On Hop Off tour which headed from midtown to downtown, basically along Broadway and 5th Avenue. (Those street names just roll off the tongue now.) The fascinating thing was the traffic – it is just as bad as one sees on tv/movies. Everything moves dead slow with generally no problems – just a fair amount of honking. What is interesting is that when the lights change, traffic stops immediately, pedestrians walk and no one tries to force their way through. Very civilized.

We passed an Irish pub, Empire State Building, the Flatiron building and billions more fascinating buildings before getting off at the tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.


Then we started to walk. First it was up to the Memorial which was quite an emotional site and there were a few tears shed even though we aren’t Americans. It was impossible to get it in one photo.

This is a Callery Pear tree and is called the Survivor tree. The firefighters found it damaged but still alive in all the rubble. They took it out to a nursery where it was brought back to health and ready to be planted on the tenth anniversary. However, the night before, a big storm came through and knocked it over once more. It took another two years, but it is now back at the Memorial (no longer referred to as ground zero).

This is the Oculus Shopping mall right next door – an amazing place.


All around the area, which still has parts under construction are these huge fences with murals on them.

The coolest one was this one though, particularly with the Oculus above it. Terry was wishing she’d had worn a black and white top.

Included in our hop on hop off was a tour of Hudson River and a trip around the Statue of Liberty.

Then it was off to find lunch which we had in a really nice little gyro/falafel place. You know – one that wasn’t anything special, just good food, eclectic art, and a take out counter.

And then you look at the menu.

Rib-eye $40.00? Spicy frankfurter $31.00? Lamb chops $40.00? Take another look at the room/kitchen behind Terry. OMG

After nourishing ourselves it was time to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, around Brooklyn, along the Brooklyn Promenade, back across the bridge and then 3.5 more miles back to our hotel.
The bike lane proponents in Vancouver would be so thrilled. Two equally wide lanes for both pedestrians and bike riders.
Unfortunately there are way more people than riders. Look beyond the goofy guy. There were literally thousands of people crammed into the same amount of space. The bikers were impatient–“This is a bike lane, assholes!”–if you happened to try to pass a slow walker when one of them flew past. One biker had a whistle in his mouth and just kept blowing. In the first 250-300 yards, vendors were set up in the pedestrian lane, cutting in half the room available. it was just plain stupid. I’d love to know how many accidents there are annually.


Downtown Manhattan from the bridge

Downtown Manhattan from Brooklyn. “On the Waterfront” was filmed right here – before it was developed into this leafy park.


I just liked this place.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had walked over ten miles and were quite tired.

Tomorrow is Uptown. See you then.

Hola Mexico City

Well here we are. The last few days of this wonderful adventure. From the heights of Sacsayhuaman (near Cusco and pronounced “sexy woman) elevation 12,142 feet to below sea level in the Galapagos, from seeing what brilliant ancient cultures could create to learning how the Spanish attempted to obliterate both Incans and Aztecs, from standing on the equator to standing on the peak of Huayna Picchu, it has been a fantastic experience. I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of what we saw.

We arrived in Mexico City at about 2:00 pm and got a taxi into town. Very civilized. You go to a counter at the airport, tell them where you want to go, pay them, they give you a chit, you go outside, choose a taxi to fit all your bags in and away you go.

I’m not sure when we go back to the airport if we will take the same route. I think the driver wanted us to feel we were back in China. He took us down a street where there were blocks and blocks of shoe stores.

It got narrower.

The shoes – well, some of the shoes. Men’s shoes, women’s shoes, shoes in boxes, shoes on racks…

It was at this point, while we were crawling along that an armed (ie. machine gun toting) policeman stopped us and said something to the driver. “Am I not supposed to take photos?” I naively ask. “No, he said to roll up the windows.” is the driver’s response. Oh.

We finally arrive at our very lovely yet inexpensive ($720 for 6 nights) hotel – The Historico Centrale where we are told that all of the food and non-alcoholic beverages available at the little coffee counter are free. Sandwiches, paninis, baked goods, smoothies, chips, pop – all free. It takes us two days for this to actually sink in. Welcome to Mexico City.

There is a two story living wall. Spectacular.

And a 6 story atrium.

By the time we get cleaned up and have a welcoming drink it is heading towards dinner time and we head up the three blocks to the Zocalo or main square, stopping at Pata Negra bar for the worst margarita ever served by one of the surliest bartenders ever.


She wasn’t so surly when it came time to pay the bill though. Then she was all sweetness and light. She asked if the margaritas were good and I lied and said yes very good. Martin gave her 500 pesos (about $32.00) for a 280 peso bill and she wandered off, staying at the far end of the bar for a good 5 minutes, waiting for us to leave. She finally came back with the change. No fleecing these gringos senorita.

From there it was across the street to watch these guys for awhile. Who takes a drum kit to busk? (FYI It’s only about 40 seconds long and then loops back to the beginning.)

Zocalo is the third largest square in the world, after Tiananmen and Red Squares. Obviously, it is huge. On one side is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, on another side is the National Palace, on another is City Hall and other government buildings and on the last hotels.

At night they are all lit up. Except for the cathedral, they all change colour every few seconds or so.

The Cathedral


National Palace

City Hall


Hotels

The Zocalo in daylight.

It is dominated by the largest national flag I’ve ever seen.

We had dinner at Salon Corona, thinking we had stumbled on a cool little restaurant. Yeah, right. There are at least 10 of them within a 5 minute walk of our hotel. But they serve a good draft…

and a not bad slushy margarita.


You remember Julie Andrews and “The Hills are Alive”? Well in Mexico City, it is “The Streets are Alive”. After dinner we came across this group. Subsequently when we passed this corner there were other classical music performers equally talented. This is almost 3 minutes long but I just couldn’t stop videoing. Please enjoy. (I don’t know whose finger that is!😂😂)

In addition we have also heard a couple of 5 or 6 year olds sent by their parents to perform on Calle Francisco I Madero, the main pedestrian walkway. They strum a couple of old toy guitars and yell out lyrics of some kind or other. It was disturbing to say the least but it is a necessary evil in this and many other parts of the world. (We have also heard music blasting from the 3rd and 4th floor discotheques and an incredible opera singer singing from the third floor balcony of a restaurant. Unreal or maybe surreal.)

From there it was back to the hotel for a glass of wine, a wonderfully comfortable bed and best of all no wake up call.

Buenos noches. Mañana.

And We Are Done In the Galapagos

Our last day and a half in The Galapagos was mostly just more of the same. Some kind of one hour nature walk followed by the opportunity to snorkel followed by a meal followed by…

The one exception to this was the one “attempt” I made to snorkel – well, not really snorkel. It isn’t a lot of fun to put a mask on, take a deep breath, submerge one’s self, look at as many fish as possible and then resurface and start the process all over again. This is particularly frustrating when one can’t even stand because of the rocky bottom. The others did tell me all about the wonderful things they saw which really helped.

Some of the sights:

The same sunrise on two cameras:

Frigates – they are amazing birds. They have a 7 1/2 foot wing span and can soar at incredible heights for weeks at a time. They watch for other birds to catch fish then catch the smaller bird and shake it until it drops the fish and then they swoop down to catch the catch. It was great watching them glide it

Basking sea lions

Two kinds of birds

More marine iguanas and red crabs

Tortoise bones

A super high tide, caused by the nearness of Venus the night before, which prevented the scheduled nature excursion “A walk on the beach”.

Our final morning was a scheduled panga, or dinghy, ride. This was by far the best excursion.

After another spectacular sunrise,

We went into Black Turtle Cove

where we saw:

Tiger Rays,

Lots of White Tipped Sharks,

Giant Tortoises

Pelicans by the dozens

and, of course, the famous Blue Footed Booby.

After the morning’s excitement – you join 12 people trying to get pictures, moving from side to side on a panga, in shark infested water and tell me that’s not excitement, it was back to the ship to say farewell to our new good friends Carol and Mike,

and the flight out to start on the last leg of this incredible adventure.

Next time – Hola Mexico City.

A Brief History of Time – Or Our Time in the Galapagos

This trip has had many incredible moments and experiences. The experiences of early morning wake up calls (I know, I have whined about them before, but it’s my blog) have not been among the incredible though. We anticipated our time on the ship assuming we would have some time to unwind and relax. Not so grasshopper. Think for a moment that you are lying in bed deep in sleep. Think that the ceiling in your room is about 7 1/2 feet instead of the standard 8 feet. Now imagine a white disk approximately 8″ across directly above your head. Finally imagine that it is 7am and suddenly La Cucuracha is blaring at full volume from that little white disk. That was our first wake up call on the Coral I. This is followed by the Ship Manager inviting all the “Dear Passengers” to come to breakfast for 7:30 and that at 8am we will be departing for Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island to see the iguanas and the mockingbirds. So much for the relaxation part.

Arriving at Santa Cruz we disembark onto a lava field (similar to the one below) and have to navigate across approximately 30 meters of this. Now we are relatively fit, but compared to the majority of our fellow passengers, we are highly tuned star athletes. Just before reaching the sand, the fellow front of me took a bad fall and was lucky to come away with only a scraped arm.

The Marine iguana had no problem with the lava though.

There are 35 of us on board the ship and they divide us into three equal groups and each group has its one guide. Yesterday we had Billy and so made sure we didn’t get into his dinghy today. Instead we jumped in with Lola.

Lola is a nice enough person, but as a guide she was not terribly effective. For example “Today we will see land iguanas and marine iguanas. The land iguanas live on the land and do not go in the water. Marine iguanas go in the water and today we will see both marine iguanas, which go in the water and land iguanas which stay on the land.” I am not using hyperbole here either.

Every piece of information she gave us she repeated at least 3 times. We think it was because she didn’t know enough to fill the hour long tour.

Anyway, here are all the animals we saw in our first excursion into the wild. The yellow ones are the land iguana and the black are the marine iguanas. The trail behind them is caused by the tail which drags along the sand. Marine iguanas spend the night on land and then head back to the water in the morning.



We saw lots and lots of red crabs.

We saw pelicans, a heron, and finches.

Then it was back to the ship so that those who wanted to could go snorkeling. Terry, Lynne and Martin all went. Those who know me know there is no way I can put that mouthpiece in my mouth without gagging, so I stayed on board. Unfortunately the area where they were taken was quite murky and they saw very very little.

After lunch we were off to Bartolome Island – an island with no animals, which isn’t exactly why we came here. Nevertheless we took the challenge of the 375 steps to the top. It was interesting – very much a moonscape.

From there it was off to see the “pinguins” aka penguins, just around Siwash Rock’s big brother – check out the rock sticking up in two of the last three photos.

Tomorrow’s another day…

Off to Quito – The Middle of The World and The Galapagos Too!

After the wonders of Machu and Huayna Picchu it will be hard to have an equivalent awe inspiring experience, but we four intrepid travellers will give it our best shot.

Starting with a 4:00am wake up call will make it that just much more difficult though. We fly from Cusco to Lima to Quito arriving just after 1pm. It’s already been a long day when we are met by Odette, our guide for the following day. We are pretty much exhausted and decide to relax for the night. Odette picks us up at 9 – a very civilized hour and we are off for a visit to Latitude 00° 00′ 00′, more commonly known as the equator.

I admit that I was a little sceptical – after all, how can you see something that doesn’t exist. However, it was quite entertaining right from Lynne having a shrunken head placed on her hand – after an initial reaction, the guide pointed out it was a plastic facsimile – to watching Lynne and Terry walk the equator while trying to remain balanced.


Terry is like a rock…

while Lynne, not so much.

On the other hand, when I was standing on the equator, the guide was able to push my fist down from over my head with one finger.

We were in two different hemispheres. Aahhh romance.

From the equator it was off to a short, but informative walking tour of historic Quito. Nothing too much to write about though – just another really old South American city. I was able, though, to try on a hat.

What’s so special about this Panama hat, you ask. It cost $5700US! The shop owners were okay with me trying it on, but were pretty much apoplectic when I handled it by the crease on the top. “Only brim sir”

Final stop was for lunch. Freudian slip?

Sunday brought a 3:45 wake-up call for pick up at 4:20 in order to catch a 6:50 flight to The Galapagos – after all, at that time of the morning the traffic to the airport (30 minutes away) can be brutal. Just not that morning.

We took a van, a plane, a bus and a kodiak/dinghy to get to the Coral I, (our home for the next 72 hours or 4 days, 3 nights depending on the marketing) where they served us a lovely lunch. This is Coral II – the sister ship to ours.

Before I go any further, do you recall my comment about fate as we took the train back from Machu Picchu? One of the couples across the aisle from us was in line to get on the boat with us. Lynne, being the outgoing person she is, chatted them up while we waited. Turns out Carol and Mike are transplanted English, now living in Grenada. A number of years ago (2013 I think), with the assistance of a couple of friends they sailed across the Atlantic, fell in love with Grenada sold their boat and moved. Now that’s an adventure. Anyway the six of us have become fast friends and had a great time on the boat.

After lunch, despite the fact that everyone had had an early start, they put us back into the dinghy or pangas, took us ashore and drove us in a bus the 45 minutes across Santa Cruz Island to the Charles Darwin Research Centre to see giant tortoises. Along the way we received almost no information from our guide. It was so bad that Terry finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was a guide and if he could provide us with some information about what we were seeing. “There are no tortoises here” is his response. Hmmm…

These two were preparing for a little romance of their own. It takes four hours and is very noisy. She doesn’t look like she is looking forward to the experience, does she?

A couple of baby Giant Tortoises.

As we were leaving the research centre we came across a small family of black iguanas.

Then we were dropped off in the village to “Do some shopping and support the local economy.” Instead we hit one of the local bars for some refreshing cuervsas before the 45 minute bus ride back. Now I’m not saying there were a lot of disgruntled passengers about how we spent our afternoon, but then again I’m not saying there weren’t any, either.

Tomorrow – land iguanas, marine iguanas, black iguanas, yellow iguanas, red crabs and a visit to an island with no animals. (Which isn’t exactly why we came to the Galapagos…)