Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jerry & Denise Visit the Big Apple!

October 23 - 26, 2015

Family selfie on our rooftop deck
Scott's parents, Denise and Jerry, made the trip out to New York from Michigan this past weekend to come pay us a visit.  Since it was their first time in New York City, they spent a couple of partial days at the beginning of their visit getting the lay of the land touring around on one of NYC's ubiquitous hop-on-hop-off buses.  They now know more about the history of New York City than we do.

After their bus tours, we still had plenty of time with them to eat our way around town and take in both a live comedy show at the Comedy Cellar's Village Underground as well as a Broadway production of 'A Gentleman's Guide to Murder,' which was so outstandingly good it might just have made a Broadway musical lover of me (no easy task)!

Our unofficial food tour began on Saturday with lunch at Sarge's Deli, located very near our apartment in Murray Hill.  Scott has eaten here several times and swears by their pastrami.  Denise opted for the corn beef and gave that two thumbs up as well.

In front of the delectable deli case at Sarge's
After lunch, we whiled the afternoon away taking in the view from the roof and relaxing over Nespressos and tea in our apartment on a grey and chilly day.  We enjoyed catching up on all the latest family news, including Jerry and Denise's recent (and fabulous-sounding!) Viking River Cruise in Europe, which began in Budapest and ended in the Netherlands and as up-to-the-minute as looking at photos from Denise and Jerry's bus tours from the previous two days.

The two elder Brookses have always been big comedy fans and so we made plans on Saturday evening to take in a show at the popular Comedy Cellar's slightly more spacious room, the Village Underground, located just around the corner from the famed original.  Unfortunately, there were no celebrity drop-ins that evening but it was a solid line-up and our second row seats - close enough to feel like part of the show but just far enough away to avoid the scrutiny of the comedians and being the butt of their jokes - only added to our enjoyment.  

Prior to the show, we weren't looking for a big meal, what with our hefty deli lunch.  But places in the Village tend to be small and crowded and we ended up having drinks, cottage fries and chocolate cake at seemingly the only sit down restaurant in town with not a single shareable appetizer offered on the menu.  A little weird, but it tided us over.

The real culinary treat of the evening came after the show when we enjoyed a midnight snack of hot dogs (for Jerry, Scott and me) and hot wings (for Denise) at a stand-up table in the door way of the Papaya Dog, while watching the hustle and bustle of the busy Village sidewalks swirl by just inches from our table. 

Enjoying a snack at Papaya Dog
On Sunday morning, Scott rushed out of bed and over to Times Square in a highly successful attempt to score some discount tickets for a matinee showing of 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' on Broadway.  

Scott shows off the 12th Row Orchestra seats he scored at the TKTS booth
Shortly after noon, Scott and I picked up his parents at their well-located East Midtown hotel and we headed up 5th Avenue, doing a little casual sightseeing as we made our way to the theater.  The autumn leaves have just started to turn here in the city, and as we set off on foot the sun came out.  It was a beautiful afternoon for a walk. Our first stop was the New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library was sporting some pretty autumn foliage
I visit the Mid-Manhattan branch of the NYPL quite regularly. However, I am a bit ashamed to admit that it was my first time in the main New York Public Library, even though it is an easy walk from our apartment and kitty corner from the lending library I frequent.  The main library houses some research materials but it is not a lending library, hence my failure to visit in the first 8 months we have resided here in Manhattan.  Once inside, it looks and functions more like a gorgeous museum than a library (and it's free!).

The entrance hallway of the New York Public Library
We enjoyed perusing the interesting photography exhibit currently on display on the main level called Public Eye.

Public Eye exhibit at the New York Public Library
The interior architecture of the space was at least as intriguing as the art exhibit. 

Public Eye exhibit at the New York Public Library
We could have easily spent more time looking around, had we not been on a schedule and I eagerly look forward to returning one day very soon to give it a closer look.

After leaving the library, we continued up 5th Avenue, going just far enough to admire (and for Jerry to photograph) the impressive St. Patrick's Cathedral before turning west towards Rockefeller Center.  The fountains as we approached Rockefeller Center were decorated with colorful autumn gourds and flowers for the season.

Rockefeller Center, dressed for fall
The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center had already opened for the season.  However, it was difficult to discern if many people were there to skate on the iconic rink, since the Zamboni was in the middle of smoothing the ice during our visit.  

The Rockefeller Center skating rink, ready for action!
Eventually we arrived at our destination, the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th St. just off Broadway.

It's Matinee Time!
We had plenty of time to get settled into our orchestra section seats in the intimate-feeling theater before the 3 pm curtain time.  

Awaiting the curtain at 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' at Walter Kerr Theatre
Our friend Richelle had highly recommended the show, but I was still a little nervous, since I am not much of a live theater fan.  However, the charming characters, clever sets, detailed period costumes and lively musical numbers combined with our great seats had me quite engrossed in the performance within the first 30 minutes.  Everyone else in our party seemed to enjoy the show equally as well, making it money and time well-spent.

Following the performance, we decided to splurge on a prime rib dinner at Gallagher's Steakhouse, located a very short walk from the theater right in Times Square.  Immediately upon our arrival, we reserved the last three pieces of prime rib available for the night (Scott decided to try a different cut) and enjoyed a cocktail at the bar before being shown to a quiet table right in the window.

The bartenders at Gallagher's know how to make a perfect martini
Scott and I had visited Gallagher's back in June to celebrate my birthday so we knew what to expect.  We were not disappointed, to say the least.  The food was superb and cooked to perfection while the service was gracious and impeccable; all in all the meal proved to be a fitting end to a most enjoyable and memorable day!

Monday dawned sunny but brisk and we continued our unofficial food tour of NYC, this time venturing across the East River to Brooklyn.  We opted to take the ferry over the subway as our mode of transit today and boarded at the 34th St. ferry terminal right near our apartment for the short trip. Everyone enjoyed the views of the iconic skyline from the water and we disembarked at the DUMBO terminal in Brooklyn in no time flat!

On the ferry to Brooklyn
The day continued sunny and pleasant so we started with a stroll along the waterfront.  On our walk, we checked out Pier 2, which has been thoughtfully re-purposed into a park, complete with various sporting courts - handball, basketball, bocce and shuffleboard - and even a roller skating rink with skate rentals.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch so of course we headed to nearby Grimaldi's for a New York style pie.

Keeping up with the lunch rush at the old-school Grimaldi's, in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Photo by Jerry Brooks
After lunch, we continued our tour with a visit to Park Slope, where Scott and I did a highly memorable home exchange nine years ago, almost to the day.  The foliage in this leafy neighborhood was just barely beginning to turn but we enjoyed seeing all the Halloween decorations the local residents had erected, taking great care not to trip over all the local children being pushed in their strollers.  
Halloween comes to Park Slope, Brooklyn
Park Slopers definitely have us Manhattanites beat in the Halloween spirit department, no doubt about it!  
Near the end of our tour, and after dragging Jerry and Denise to see the apartment building where we stayed on our home exchange, Denise was struck with a craving for a tall piece of New York cheesecake so we took the subway back to Manhattan.  After a failed attempt in Soho, we settled in at Katz's Deli in the East Village for a piece that really hit the spot.

Katz's Deli, home of the famed "I'll have what she's having!" scene from the movie "When Harry Met Sally." Photo by Jerry Brooks
Later that evening, we concluded our unofficial food tour of NYC with a low-key yet satisfyingly tasty meal at Baby Bo's Cantina, where they also have great happy hour margaritas.  We said our goodbyes as the senior Brookses headed back to their hotel to get a good night's sleep before their flight home in the morning.  It was great to be able to spend so much time together catching up and we look forward to picking up where we left off on our upcoming trip to Michigan over Thanksgiving week!

More photos:

The TKTS booth line that Scott braved on Sunday morning for our theater tickets, proving that Times Square is never quiet!
New York Public Library in autumn. Photo by Jerry Brooks
New York Public Library. Photo by Jerry Brooks
New York Public Library 'Public Eye' photography exhibit
New York Public Library 'Public Eye' photography exhibit
New York Public Library 'Public Eye' photography exhibit
New York Public Library
New York Public Library
Autumn comes to Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center 
Eagerly anticipating the show at 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder'
Documenting the changing of the guard at the Late Show
The Chrysler Building beneath a full moon
Oh, the anticipation! Lunch at Grimaldi's in Brooklyn
It's pie time!

Halloween in Park Slope, Brooklyn
I just happened to be sitting right next to the photo of one of my favorite actors, Paul Rudd, at Katz's Deli

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Autumn Day of Leaf Peeping in Connecticut

October 10, 2015
Litchfield Hills, CT

Vista from the high point of Mohawk State Forest in Cornwall, CT
Now that we're back in the land of the four seasons, when October hit, we were simply itching to take in some of the fall foliage for which New England is justifiably famous.  For the better part of two weeks, we discussed the merits of various locales in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, researching fall color maps in conjunction with prime foliage destinations appropriate for a day trip from NYC, in search of the best destination for the particular weekend we chose.  We had originally rented a car but when we learned that friends Brian and Richelle were planning to do the same thing on the same weekend, we ditched the rental and rode along in their car instead.

When Saturday arrived, Brian and Richelle picked us up, bright and early, at the subway station near their apartment in Long, Island City, Queens, and the four of us set off in their comfortable VW sedan.  Leaving the hustle and bustle and early morning traffic of the city behind us, we headed straight for the northwestern corner of Connecticut known as the Litchfield Hills.  All of my painstaking research paid off and we were treated to an abundance of stunningly vibrant changing leaves in gorgeous hues of red, yellow and orange.  Success!

Washington Depot, CT
Litchfield Hills, CT
Mohawk State Forest, Cornwall, CT
We spent an enjoyable day with our friends touring the pleasantly rural back roads of Connecticut, passing through quaint little towns populated with lovely, steepled and whitewashed churches and charming homes, with a mill and a country barn thrown in for good measure.

Washington Depot, CT
The picturesque, winding roads of North Kent, CT
Upon reaching Mohawk State Forest, we enjoyed taking in the brightly colored scenic vistas. 

Autumnal beauty in Mohawk State Forest
Autumnal beauty in Mohawk State Forest
Autumnal beauty in Mohawk State Forest
Autumnal beauty in Mohawk State Forest
The weather was a bit chilly but we followed up our vista-viewing with a brief hike through the leaf-carpeted woods.

Mohawk State Forest
As the afternoon wore on, we stopped off at Hogan's Cider Mill for a light snack.

Hogan's Cider Mill in Burlington, CT
As luck would have it (ok, there was no luck involved - that's what smartphones are for!), Hogan's was selling moist, cake-like apple cider donuts along with their own apple cider and hard cider, both of which were available on the counter for tasting, on a serve-yourself basis, by anyone who stumbled upon it.

Sampling the hard cider at Hogan's Cider Mill in Burlington, CT
Upon tasting, we opted not to buy any of the hard cider, as it seemed more reminiscent of prison hooch (not that I've ever been to prison, mind you...) than the typical, tasty hard cider I've had at bars in the past and it really packed a punch!  Thanks, but no thanks. 

However, we did purchase a half gallon of the tasty apple cider to complement our four donuts, which we enjoyed while standing in the sunshine, drinking our cider out of the tiny tasting cups, since we had nothing larger on hand.  

Enjoying our cider and donuts in the parking lot at Hogan's
After our cider and donuts, we were hungry for something a bit more substantial and found ourselves at a cute little tapas and wine bar.

Stopping for some yummy tapas and wine at Francesca's in Collinsville, CT
We enjoyed a light meal of several tapas plates shared over a lovely bottle of California Zinfandel.  After our meal, we squeezed in a little more leaf peeping just before the sun began it's daily journey to the horizon and we witnessed the vibrant hues begin to fade in the dusk.  
Dusk in Norfolk, CT - Photo by Brian Gist
I must confess that I felt a bit melancholy as we watched the brilliant colors disappear into the darkness.  But it was a long and satisfying day spent with good friends and as night fell, we headed for home, back to the city.  With any luck, I can convince Scott to venture to Pennsylvania for more fall foliage in a couple of weeks...

More photos:
Scenic Litchfield Hills, CT - Photo by Brian Gist
Washington Depot, CT - Photo by Richelle Gist
Washington Depot, CT
Washington Depot, CT - Richelle and me, posing happily, either right before or right after we sat on the fence behind us, causing it to come crashing down beneath us, and nearly sending us tumbling to our deaths in the steep ravine below (disclaimer: this may be a slight exaggeration of the facts).  Brian came rushing to Richelle's aid, while Scott checked on the fence, putting it back together. Good times.
Litchfield Hills, CT
North Kent, CT
North Kent, CT - Photo by Bran Gist
Litchfield Hills, CT
Mohawk State Forest, Cornwall, CT

Mohawk State Forest
Mohawk State Forest - Photo by Brian Gist
Mohawk State Forest
Mohawk State Forest
Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk State Forest - Photo by Richelle Gist
Mohawk State Forest

Nature's autumnal carpet at Mohawk State Forest

Mohawk State Forest
Hiking in Mohawk State Forest
Hogan's Cider Mill
Hogan's Cider Mill - Photo by Brian Gist 
Pumpkins for sale at Hogan's Cider Mill
The colorful hills of charming downtown Collinsville,CT

Litchfield Hills, CT - Photo by Brian Gist
Litchfield Hills, CT
A last gasp of color at dusk in Norfolk, CT - Photo by Brian Gist

Farewell, Litchfied Hills, until we meet again...