Saturday, November 30, 2013

Unplugging

Our sweet little cabin!
 After one takes a trip to New York City, one can use some down time. Luckily, I'd booked us for a family weekend at Jellystone Park in Pelahatchie months before. I'd been wanting to take little man over there to check it out for a few years, and fall is a great time to be outdoors in Mississippi.
If you've never been to a Jellystone Park camping ground, you're in for a treat! It's a nice family camp, with cabins, RV hookups, and places where you can pitch your own tent! Because my crew isn't much for roughing it, we booked a fully-stocked cabin on the lake. Since we had extra beds, we invited my sister and her two sweet boys to join us. 

View from the back deck
We loved our little cabin! It was small but snug, with a full kitchen and a wonderful little back deck on the water. We checked in on Friday night, enjoyed the lake view, and pored over Saturday's activities sheet. Because it was mid-October, the camp was in full Halloween mode, with tons of themed events. 

On Saturday morning, we made a big breakfast and headed out for some fun. We started at the playground next to the Ranger Station, where the boys climbed and slid and had a grand time before deciding to try out the (free) putt putt golf course. After whacking the ball a bit, it was Pledge with a Bear at the flagpole, where we met Boo-Boo the Bear. 
Hey, Boo-Boo!

Then, we headed to the Activities Center to board the Hey-Hey Ride. A tractor pulls the trailer all around the park, and you sing songs and wave (Hey-hey. Get it?) to all of the other campers.

Our stomachs growling for lunch, we headed back to the cabin and cooked up baked chicken, macaroni and cheese and green beans. Fortified, it was back to the Activities Center, where we decorated (and ate) cookies, painted ceramics, tie-dyed our own T-shirt and watched The Great Pumpkin on the big TV!

We went back to the cabin to get a fire started. While hubs tended it and prepped for an outdoor supper, we scooted back out to the kids' version of the Trail of Terror, a small indoor blacklight trail with candy at the end. (There is a much scarier walking version of this activity for the older kids. You walk through the pitch-black woods, and costumed monsters jump out at you. I opted for the "no nightmares" offering.) Then, it was off to roast hot dogs and make S'mores under the stars. We'd brought some bags of candy with us, so we also welcomed other campers who came trick or treating. So fun!

Professional tie-dyer
Brian and I spent most of the evening, though, with our feet propped up in front of the fire. We put Clay to bed, I poured myself a glass of wine, and we stayed out there, talking and laughing, until the fire burned out. As it got colder, and I wrapped a fleece blanket around my shoulders, I thought to myself that I don't sit in front of a wood fire enough. There's something relaxing and mesmerizing about watching the flames lick the wood away. (When I got home, I dragged our fire pit out of storage. I've already built a fire or two in it since, and I hope to build more.)

The next morning, after a quick stop at the Rangers' Station so Clay could get a souvenir, we packed up and headed home, other adventures in our future. We so enjoyed our trip to Jellystone. I can't wait to return in the summer, when we can hit the splash pad and rent a boat for fishing! 



Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.


My kind of town, cont.

The 9/11 Memorial
The next morning, we were up and at 'em. We had timed tickets for entrance into the 9/11 Memorial, and we were going to sample breakfast at Kitchenette first. We hopped the subway to the financial district and made our way to the restaurant.

Kitchenette is the cutest little place! The cafe is decorated in pastel, weathered tones, with old doors and polka dots galore. We were immediately seated, and I ordered a hot cup of tea to start. Before long, we were tucking into big plates piled high with breakfast deliciousness - eggs, french toast, sausage, biscuits and more. The meal was incredibly filling, and service was fast and friendly. We were in and out of there in plenty of time to make our timed entry into the 9/11 Memorial, which was only a few blocks away.

If you choose to visit the 9/11 Memorial while you're in New York City, keep a couple of things in mind to optimize your experience. First of all, realize that the memorial is still very much a work in progress. We reserved timed (free) tickets online, stood in several lines, and went through security to visit what will some day be an open-air plaza. The accompanying museum is still being constructed, and the completed Visitors Center is really just a small shop selling books, films and other related merchandise. Secondly, arrive slightly before your ticketed time. There are a few lines you'll have to get through before you can access the plaza, and that will take some time.

St. Paul's Chapel
That said, it was powerful to observe the tower stretching heavenward and touch the engraved names surrounding the two great fountains of absence in the plaza. It's a beautiful, solemn place, and there's something wonderful about going there to remember.

To further enhance your visit, I also recommend stopping by some of the other nearby landmarks that have 9/11 significance. We spent nearly an hour at St. Paul's Chapel, which is directly across the street from the memorial site. The church survived the 9/11 blasts and quickly became a relief center for emergency responders. The structure itself is historic (It was built in 1776.), but the exhibits inside about how the church served the recovery effort will make you weep. Photos, quotes, uniforms from the first responders, it's an amazing display of the humanity evoked by the 9/11 tragedy. Not to be missed. I loved this place. It gave so much meaning to my visit.

Grand Central Station
We stopped for a quick lunch in the dining concourse of Grand Central Station. (Tri Tip Grill. Yummmm!!) Then, we decided to do some shopping! It was off to the original Macy's in Herald Square. What fun! We rode up and down the old wooden escalators and shopped for shoes and bags. The place was packed, but we found a few treasures to take home! Beat, we walked back to our hotel slowly, taking time to relax in Bryant Park for a while. I loved the fountain and the old carousel there! So charming! (And the bathroom is seriously one of the nicest public bathrooms you will ever see. Ever. There are fresh flowers in there. No lie.)

Macy's!
After a break at the hotel, we began nosing around for dinner. We opted for a quick meal of convenience at The Perfect Pint, a nearby Irish bar. Forgettable, but serviceable.

We spent the next morning and the early afternoon at a conference (with a working lunch a Pershing Square - mussels in a flavorful broth - mmmmmm). After lunch, though, I'd booked us a 2:30 p.m. tour of Radio City Music Hall. On my previous trip, I'd only admired the famous theatre from the outside. On this visit, I was determined to get an insider's look at the historic performance space.

This was a really fun tour, and because we visited in October, we got to see the crews preparing the theatre for Radio City's annual Christmas Spectacular! Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and I loved the art deco details and behind-the-scenes secrets he shared with us. We got to peek into all of the nooks and crannies (including Roxy's private apartment and the Rockettes' costume shop!), and we finished up by visiting with a costumed Rockette. Such fun!

After our tour, we headed for Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue. What can I say? I loved this place last time, and I loved it again this time. Affordable, with great food, and friendly, speedy service, it's a great option for
The gorgeous, gorgeous stage at Radio City Music Hall
pre-theatre dining. I didn't have anything fancy, just a big Greek salad with hummus and pita, washed down with a nice Greek red wine. It completely hit the spot, though, and I had a curtain time to make.

I had paid full-price in advance to go see Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. What a show! I'd seen the film years before and loved it. And then, after it danced off with a boatload of Tonys, it rose to the top of my must list.

No wonder everyone loves it. It's funny, it's got heart, and the cast is amazing. Plus, who can match the visual spectacle of 8 be-ribboned, be-sequined, 6-foot-tall drag queens, singing and dancing and playing their roles for all they are worth?! I decided as I watched that a Broadway stage truly is the natural habitat of a drag queen. Just magnificent. Performances were unbelievable.

The Rockettes' costume shop! What fun!
Feeling a bit parched after the show, we headed for the Campbell Apartment. (I'm linking to another blog post, not the official site for the Campbell Apartment, because the official site isn't very good. And this blog post is soooo much better and gives you an idea of the history of the space.) Aside from being incredibly convenient for us (as it's located right next to the Grand Hyatt, where we were staying), it was such an atmospheric spot. It was packed and felt like the center of New York City that night. We ordered two gorgeous (and expensive) cocktails, sipped, and reveled in the evening. Highly recommended.

We spent all of the next day in conference and working. By the time we took a break, it was past dinner, but nearing curtain time. What to do? We decided to ignore our hunger and see what we could find on Broadway. We lucked out with two mezzanine tickets for Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. I was so glad the theatre gods had smiled on us! First of all, Patina Miller deserved her Tony. Not only was she a brilliant singer and actress as the Lead Player, every move she made during the dance numbers was so controlled, so precise. Not a movement was wasted. Inspiring to watch.

Beautiful cocktails at the Campbell Apartment
Matthew James Thomas was excellent as Pippin, and Rachel Bay Jones broke hearts in the role of Catherine. Terrence Mann as Charles delivered plenty of laughs, and Tovah Feldshuh as Berthe had the whole audience in her palm during "No Time at All."

Well-pleased with the evening's entertainments, we decided to hunt up a late dinner. An ad in the Playbill pointed our feet towards Pigalle, a nearby brasserie. I had the grilled lamb with mashed potatoes and wilted spinach with a nice glass of red. At that hour, the restaurant wasn't crowded, so we took our time and lingered, opting for the profiteroles for dessert. What a golden, delicious evening.

It was our last night in New York City, so we ambled slowly back to the hotel, walking through the theatre district and Times Square one last time, enjoying the lights and the bustle of people and the whole human parade of the place.

The next morning, it was pack-breakfast-taxi-airport-home. Can't wait for my next trip to New York!




Thursday, November 28, 2013

My kind of town

Our room at the Grand Hyatt

In mid-October, I got the chance to visit New York City. I hadn't been since hubs and I traveled there back in 2009, so I was excited to see more of the city and catch a few things I missed the first time around.

My flight arrived in the early afternoon, so I caught a quick cab to our hotel - the Grand Hyatt New York City. The hotel couldn't be more conveniently located. It's directly next door to Grand Central Station, in the middle of everything. The lobby is very modern (with some eerie white statues of giant heads), and the rooms are quiet and comfortable. We had a double room, and I was relieved that there was plenty of space for all of our luggage and toiletries.

After settling in a bit, I was off to Rockefeller Center. When I'd come before, the ice skating rink hadn't been opened for the season yet, but this time, skaters were twirling all over the ice. I enjoyed the ambiance for a bit and also ducked into the Lego store to get little man a souvenir.

Rockefeller Center
I poked my head into St. Patrick's Cathedral, but, sadly, a massive restoration effort moves this attraction off my must list for now. Scaffolding is everywhere, both inside and out, making it difficult to appreciate the structure or its history. I was glad I'd been able to enjoy it on my previous visit.

I couldn't linger for too long, anyway, because I had reservations for Top of the Rock at 5 p.m. I'd pre-purchased my ticket online, so I was able to get right in line for the elevator. Along the way, you stop for some educational information (including a fun little film) about Rockefeller Center and its impact on New York City. (I was really surprised to see most visitors barreling past this type of information to get to the top of the building. I thought knowing more about Rockefeller Center and its construction added much to my visit.)

Amazing views from Top of the Rock
When you do get on the elevator that takes you to the 69th/70th floors (where the observation decks are), you can look up to see a lights show whizzing past during your ascent. At the top, views are simply amazing. There are both indoor and outdoor observation decks. and you get wonderful views of Central Park and the Empire State Building (which isn't in any of our observation shots from the last trip, of course, because we were standing atop it at the time).

I so loved this attraction, especially the very top, open-air deck. I watched the sun slip below the skyline and breathed in. Once you're at the top, you can stay as long as you like, so savor it.

After my trip to the top of the world, I stopped by Del Frisco's Grille in Rockefeller Center for dinner. At my waitress' suggestion, I had the chicken schnitzel - a chicken breast pounded thin, breaded, and sauteed, served over a heaping pile of of noodles drenched in a lemon butter sauce. Washed down with a glass of red, it made for an excellent end to my first night in the city.

Beat from traveling and my wanderings, I headed back to the hotel to turn in.

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Sarabeth's!
I rose early the next morning with big breakfast plans. I'd heard wonderful things about Sarabeth's, so I scurried over to their Central Park South location to check it out. Delicious! I chose the lemon and ricotta pancakes with berries. With a big coffee, they made for a perfect breakfast al fresco - fluffy, filling and sweet. I lingered there, sipping from my warmed cup, watching the passersby and the horse-drawn carriages.

After breakfast, I decided to explore Central Park a bit. In my previous trip, I'd strolled through the middle part of the park, but not the south end. I surveyed Grand Army Plaza before walking around the pond, stopping to admire the bust of Thomas More. I photographed the statues of Martin and Marti at the Avenue of the Americas. I sat on the Gapstow Bridge for a bit, enjoying the sunshine on the water. There was a tai chi class on top of Umpire Rock that morning, and games were being played on the ball fields. I couldn't resist taking a few pics of the historic carousel, and I also stuck my head into the Chess and Checkers House. After a quick visit with Balto, I met up with a friend for my next adventure.

The pond at Central Park!
Having skipped breakfast, she was hungry. A quick search on Urbanspoon revealed that the Atlantic Grill was a mere hop and a skip, so off we went. We were in luck! For Sunday brunch, the restaurant offers one free bellini for diners! For my entree, I chose the scrambled eggs popover, a rich, creamy concoction of smoked salmon, boursin cheese and chives. Paired with a free drink and a big glass of water, it made for a wonderful meal.

I loved the historic carousel in Central Park. 
On my previous trip to NYC, I'd missed visiting the Frick Collection, an oversight I intended to rectify on this trip. If you've ever wondered what it might have been like to be a titan of industry at the end of the 1800s, this is the place to find out. Henry Clay Frick was a giant in the coke and steel industries. The Frick Collection is housed in his former home, with all of his gorgeous furniture and personal art on display. You can walk airily through the rooms (which, incidentally, border on Central Park), pretending that you own all you survey, to get an idea of how good life really was for this ruthless businessman.

What I loved about the Frick Collection was that it was completely do-able in an afternoon. The home is large and the collection extensive, but it's nothing like visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and feeling as though you'd need to spend a week there to even scratch the surface. After walking through all of the gorgeous rooms (except for the Oval Room, which was closed in anticipation of an installation of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring - we just missed it!!), we sat daintily on a bench in the garden court, the fountains playing and the light filtering in from above.

What a great show!
Afterwards, we walked down towards the TKTS booth in Times Square. It was Columbus Day, and we caught a parade as we went, marching along and enjoying the color and music. When we got to the booth, the line was crazy! We decided to try dinner first, so off to Nizza we went. I'd dined here during my previous trip, and I enjoyed returning to an old favorite. We bellied up to the bar. I had a heaping bowl of linguine with clams, washed down with a glass of wine. Heaven.

After dinner, we tried the TKTS booth again. So close to curtain, there was absolutely no line. We grabbed two cut-rate tickets to Chicago and made it to the theatre just in time! What a fun show! I'd seen Chicago live before, but not on Broadway. Amra-Faye Wright was wonderful as Velma (and I recognized her from her appearance on the Tonys), and Dylis Croman did a fabulous job as Roxie Hart. I thought Jason Patrick Sands had absolutely THE perfect voice to play Billy Flynn, and Mary Sunshine's reveal was hilarious! Roz Ryan played Mama Morton, and her rendition of "Class" with Velma (one of my fave songs in the whole show) was understated but so, so solid. A great production, all around. (Even Ryan Worsing as the jury was a hoot!)
Ah, Junior's. How I love thee . . . 

After the show, we still had a little life left in us. Off we went to Junior's for the customary post-theatre slice of cheesecake. The waiter thought our thick Southern accents were charming, and we thought the cheesecake was revolutionary. We both tried the strawberry cheesecake. I had a big cup of decaf with mine, but I honestly couldn't finish either the cheesecake or the coffee! I did enjoy giving it my best effort, though.

By this time, we were beat. We tumbled into bed, with another big day ahead of us.

More to come . . .