Ali Does NYC – On the Cheap

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the Pie’s and my first date. What did we do on that date? Well, we ended up going for a walk. A really long one. And that’s kind of what has characterized the past decade together: we get places, on foot, and we like it that way. We lived for five years in Newfoundland with no car, so really it was our only option for a long time. When we travel, which we do occasionally, we prefer to get around the places we visit on our own steam.

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To be honest, we make terrible tourists. We avoid the flashy souvenir meccas and the ideal place to take that perfect selfie. Mostly, we just wander around and make snide comments to each other about the weird people (usually other tourists) that we see. On the plus side, this ends up saving us a bunch of money that we can then spend on eating local food. Which is a much better experience, for us, than enduring a crowd to purchase some tchotchke item.

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So when we went to visit my brother and his family in New York City in the first week of September, we did it our way (*Sinatra reference, sorry). We calculated that the most cost efficient and shortest travel distance was to drive from Ottawa to Syracuse (crossing the Canada/USA border at Hill Island), then take the Amtrak Empire Service route from Syracuse to Penn Station in NYC. Long term parking at the Syracuse train station is $7 a day so it was only $49 total for a week. Had we driven all the way to Manhattan, our parking costs would have been more like $60-$75 a DAY. The Empire Service route is really pretty because it follows the Hudson River all the way down to pretty much where it empties into the ocean. You pass all sorts of pretty little towns, amazingly constructed bridges, odd empty lighthouses along the river, and even a ruined castle.

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Ando’s family currently lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and about a block away one of their friends runs an Airbnb, so we got to stay at her place for free and it was extra convenient. It’s a good example of those studio apartments for which NYC is famous, and we were so grateful that our lovely new friend let us stay there.

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We also got a little snippet view out the window of the East River.

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And if you go that extra distance this is the whole of the East River.

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The block and a half walk from where we were staying to my brother’s place is the classic picture of what you expect in New York, with assorted brownstone buildings, dripping air conditioners, and wrought-iron railings.

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One of the first things we did upon our arrival in the city was purchase a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard, which cost us $30 each and meant we could travel as much as we wanted on any bus or train in the city. And it was probably the smartest money we spent on that whole trip, because we used public transit ALL THE TIME (when we weren’t hoofing it, that is). New York City is a big place with a crapload of boroughs and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Fortunately the New York Metro Transit Authority (MTA) is really easy to figure out and we had the subway system pretty much down pat after about a day.

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If you’re a baseball fan, then New York is a great place to be, because they have TWO professional teams in the city. Of course, if you want Yankees tickets you’ll have to donate a kidney to afford good seats, but if you’re a diehard supporter of the much-less-successful New York Mets, then being a fan is a little less hard on your wallet (because they’re terrible so seats are cheap). Teedz got the Pie tickets for his birthday, so Teedz, Ando, Tego, the Pie, and myself all trooped off to Queens to see what all the fuss was about.

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We sat in foul ball territory in the blazing sun, enjoying Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and ice cold lemonade. It must’ve been at least 35°C/95°F in those seats. We all got extremely tanned, and that was just the beginning of the hottest week that NYC had experienced all year. I spent much of the game watching the clouds pass overhead and wishing a few of them would stick around and prevent me from being burned to a crisp.

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Just as the Mets game was ending (and after they had, surprisingly, and despite several huge errors, actually WON the game), the skies opened up and it poured rain. There was much thunder and lightning as well.

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All of the fans taking public transport hid out under the nearby highway, with NYPD officers yelling at those who attempted to jaywalk. We were soon joined by fans of the US Open, which was going on right next door. Teedz and Tego made many jokes about how this was a good opening for Sharknado 3.

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Finally our bus came and we took a short ride to Flushing, which is just one train stop over from CitiField and the last one on that particular line. Flushing is basically a giant Chinatown and we grabbed twelve crabs for only $12 and took the train back to Manhattan to eat our spoils. The 77th Street subway stop kind of became our home away from home for the next week, as we ended up here all the time.

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Labour Day Monday dawned hot and sticky, so we elected for a beach day at Coney Island. On the subway through Brooklyn I caught a nice glimpse of Manhattan from the other side, complete with Brooklyn Bridge. You can see the tiny Statue of Liberty just to the left of the large part of the Bridge in the centre of the photo.

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Coney Island was totally nuts.

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But I got a decent picture of the Pie as he hid his pale redhead skin under the umbrella.

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The carnies are now gone but the remnants of the olden times still remain. Even the people fishing off the pier have been doing so for decades.

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Plus these kites were pretty nifty.

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We left the beach just as the thunder was rolling in and decided in a fit of grownup bravery to ride the Cyclone ($9 each with free bag check), a wooden roller coaster built in 1927. Teedz was a good sport and went along with it even though she’s terrified of these things. The Pie and I sat in the very front car, and it was truly terrifying to approach those apexes and not be able to see the rest of the track in front of you. I may have a few additional gray hairs after that adventure.

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The Tuesday we were in Manhattan was the hottest day the city had reported in well over a year. It was humid as could be and well into the 40s Celsius (over 100 Fahrenheit). And this is the day that the Pie and I chose to trudge all over Manhattan. Because that’s how we roll. Fortunately, the middle of Central Park was not too far away from where we were staying, so we started there.

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It was cool to look at the iconic landmarks in the Park that often appear in movies.

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The Pie was particularly taken with the super nice baseball diamonds within the Park.

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From there we trudged down Broadway to Times Square. One thing I have learned about Manhattan is that if you want to find anything, the chances are really good that you will find it on Broadway. Everything is on Broadway. It’s a very long street.

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Anyway, Times Square was nuts. We went into the three-storey M&M store but didn’t buy anything because we don’t like M&Ms.

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Naked Cowboy!

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Buzz Lightyear, some reporter, Mickey Mouse, and Spider-Man!

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This Minnie Mouse accosted me asking for a hug after I took this picture. I may have run away.

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Even the NYPD gets their share of neon lights in Times Square.

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As we continued to trudge we ducked into Bryant Park for free WiFi and a chance to sit in the shade for a few minutes. It also gave us a view of the Empire State Building, which you can see from pretty much everywhere.

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In Bryant Park you can sign up to play ping pong on your lunch hour for free.

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We didn’t intend to see all those famous and important buildings on purpose, but as we trudged along Broadway, we ran into them all. The New York Public Library (FROM GHOSTBUSTERS MY FAVOURITE). We ducked in here as well for air conditioning and WiFi. It’s lovely.

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Its iconic lion statues.

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The Chrysler Building. Because it’s my favourite.

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The Flatiron Building. Very skinny.

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After this we were completely exhausted and looking for a way out. Fortunately the 14th Street Union Square station will pretty much take you anywhere you want to go.

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On the Wednesday we decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial. As we approached the area, we were blinded by the light reflecting off the new World Trade Center tower. Say what you will about American imperialism and capitalism and all that, but this building was like a giant middle finger aimed at those who would dare to crush the American spirit. It was quite brilliant.

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The memorial itself is absolutely beautiful. The museum was too crowded for us that day, so we walked between the footprints of the two buildings and read the names etched into the borders. Volunteers at the memorial place white roses on top of the names of those who would be celebrating birthdays on a particular day, which is sweet.

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This may be one of our favourite spots in the city, because despite the crowds and the heat it felt so tranquil.

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We filled our water bottles at a fountain on the grounds. The water tasted like freedom (or was just really good considering how hot it was).

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That night the Pie went to a Street Fighter thing in Brooklyn so Teedz and Tego and I went out to dinner with an acquaintance of mine from long ago. We had some delightful and affordable Indian food in Murray Hill, affectionately nicknamed Curry Hill for its abundance of Indian cuisine.

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On the way back we got to see the Chrysler Building at night.

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And the UN, though they take all the flags down at dusk. Boo.

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As the days progressed and the Pie and I got more and more tired, we went less far in our travels. On the Thursday we hit up the High Line, an old subway track turned into pedestrian path. It was very crowded and pretty touristy (and I had to shove aside a few European tourists who were shoving me right back to get through) but it was nice to see the city from a different angle.

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I really like the odd mix of new and old.

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From there we wandered through the Meatpacking District and looked at all the fancy things in stores we couldn’t afford. Of course the Empire State Building was waving at us.

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And the Chrysler Building.

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I took a picture of this window as we walked past the central post office, just because I liked the metalwork. After I did, a million tourists behind us stopped and stared up at the window and snapped pictures, trying to figure out what was so important about it.

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We ended up at Grand Central Station. We’d been through the underground part of it countless times at this point, but we wanted to see the rest of it. It was definitely one of our favourite spots.

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Just like the 9/11 Memorial, this place was a busy hub of activity, but it also gave you such a sense of space that you can’t really get elsewhere in the city, and that made it peaceful.

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Friday we mostly just ran around with Ando and Teedz. We went to the Chelsea Market which was kind of neat, but again pretty touristy. Krystopf and his family were stopping through NYC on their way to Europe, so we got to spend the evening with them and we managed to capture one of the few photos of myself and my brothers all in the same room that wasn’t taken at a wedding. We are all dorks. But we’re dorks as a family, and that’s what matters.

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The next time we go we will probably go in the winter, so we’ll skate at Rockefeller Center and go to all the crazy toy stores and do all those sorts of things. I’ll keep you posted!


Portland in Review

Marriott View

Aaaand we’re back. Hard to believe that I woke up Monday morning on one side of the continent and then I went to sleep at night on the complete opposite side of the continent. Four airports in four different states/provinces and two different countries, and a four-and-a-half-hour time difference later and here we are in St. John’s again.

The trip was GREAT. Doodle and the Cyclist got married and we were so happy to be able to be a part of their beautiful day. The weather was awesome, if a little hot, and nothing went horribly wrong. And I got a new camera out of it.  What more could you ask for?

New camera

When we arrived in Portland, the Cyclist picked us up and took us to the apartment he and Doodle share, where Doodle was in the midst of getting her wedding mehndi done. Mehndi, if you didn’t know, is that lovely temporary henna tattoo that goes on your hands and feet. You can read more about it here.


We crashed and burned at this point, having been up for what felt like forever, and Doodle went to bed with toilet paper on her arms to protect the design.  This is the next day, when the Cyclist helped her scrape off the dried henna paste with a credit card.  You can see that the design is a bright orange at first, and it will darken over the next few days.


That first day the Pie and I wandered about and tested out the new camera a bit.  This is a shot of him actually smiling (sort of), which is rare in photos I take of him.  Normally he just looks grumpy.


Portland is famous for its many bridges that cross the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.  This is the Steel Bridge, one of my favourites.


And the Freemont, which is Doodle’s favourite.


Portland is also an interesting mix of old and new.  I love old business advertisements painted on the brick buildings.


At this point the other bridesmaids started to arrive, and we surprised Doodle with a dinner at Jake’s with all her female crew from town.


Next day we set off for manicures and pedicures in the morning (my first experience, and I may well be addicted now) and then back to Doodle’s place for mehndi in the afternoon. Here is Sam, one of the bridesmaids, getting her henna on.


What a beautiful job!


The artist, for those of you in the Portland area, is Wendy Rover of Roving Horse Henna and she was lovely. I think you have to be lovely if you are hanging over someone’s body for the better part of an hour.

Here’s me getting mine done.


And the final result:


In case you’re wondering, getting this stuff done is a very pleasant experience. Wendy mixes tea tree oil and all sorts of goodies into her henna paste, so it feels cool and refreshing on your skin, not itchy at all. Of course, you have to leave it on for several hours, and you can’t bend your fingers in case the drying paste cracks. So it makes things interesting when you are trying to do things later on in the day. The Pie managed to shoe horn me into one of his new hoodies (we went to the Nike employee store and took advantage of a deep discount and Oregon’s tax-freeness, hence my full Nike attire) and we got some ice cream to eat in the sun. This was when I discovered that eating ice cream while exposing henna to the sun is a good way to make it all fall off.

Nike'd up.

I also made the mistake of discovering my new favourite store, Cargo Imports. They specialize in new and old Chinese imports. I may have purchased some things. The Pie was particularly taken with the sinks made of petrified wood.


And I loved the hundreds of tiny apothecary bottles in a big glass case.


And then I had to go and pet a corgi puppy. His name is Winston.

Portland Corgi

Which meant that by the time we got back to the apartment my henna paste was a lost cause.

So this is what it looks like when the paste is scraped off.


And it will darken, and look lovely and brown.


The day before the wedding, we took Doodle on her “bachelorette,” which was a tour of three local wineries.


This first place was where Doodle and the Cyclist got engaged.


This was indeed a tire swing.


And an absolutely enormous cookie. I saved half for the Pie.


And this is Mount Hood. I’ve been there.


Some barrels.


And some more barrels.


And some vines. No grapes yet.


It was a beautiful sunshiny day and pretty much all of us (Doodle excluded) got a sunburn.


Then before we knew it, it was the wedding day!

First we had our hair done …


… and then our makeup. Doodle of course didn’t need much — she is a very beautiful lady.


Here’s a closeup of Doodle’s henna, nice and dark.


Then it was off to the World Forestry Center to get ready for pictures and the ceremony itself.

World Forestry Centre

We did pictures before the ceremony to save time, but first Doodle was dressed in traditional kimono by an old friend of her mother’s.

World Forestry Centre

All set!

World Forestry Centre

While she was being photographed outside, the Cyclist arrived with his posse. We ran interference and made him cover his face so he wouldn’t see her before he was supposed to.

World Forestry Centre

Then it was time for the wedding dress.

World Forestry Centre

We all took a turn at the laces, but Sam did it the best.

World Forestry Centre

And then things started to get busy and I had to be photographed as well so this is my last photo of the wedding.

World Forestry Centre

But it was such a great experience. I’ve known Doodle since we were fourteen, so it was really neat to see her all grown up and to see how fantastic she and the Cyclist are together, and to meet all her really nice West coast friends. Sorry, I’m gushing. I’ll stop now.

On our final day in Portland we decided to check out the Portland Pride Parade, and it was a really good day for it. Not hot like the day before, but warm enough that everyone, even those who were scantily clad, was comfortable.

Portland Pride

I must have taken two hundred photos of the parade, which was fantastic. You can see more of them on my Flickr page starting here. It was really nice to see so many religious groups out in support of their parishioners.

Portland Pride

The old cars were something to see.

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

As were the costumes.

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

And there were so many colours!

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

Portland Pride

This flag in particular caught my eye.  I am thinking of making a DIY out of something similar.

Portland Pride

And so many loving families out and about. I think this is my favourite photo of the bunch.

Portland Pride

What a great trip. The Pie and I can’t wait to go back!

Portland Ho!

Today the Pie and I fly off to Portland, Oregon for the wedding of Doodle and the Cyclist.  I haven’t been to Portland since 2007 (you can see my shots here) and the Pie has never been further west than Thunder Bay, Ontario (which really isn’t very west at all), so it will be a great trip.  My parents are here to take care of the dog, so rest assured he will be spoiled rotten.

Me and the Rock
Last time I was in Oregon I ended up in front of the rock in The Goonies (at Cannon Beach). And I thought it was windy THERE!

You will still be getting your regular MWF posts that I have been stockpiling, but I’d like to try something new this time I go away.  I’m not bringing my computer with me, but I will have my phone, and I’m going to try out the WordPress app for Android and give you a little taste each day of what we’re up to on the west coast. Plus I have a brand new camera waiting for me upon my arrival, so I’ll be sure to take lots and lots of pictures.

Then when we return I’ll give you a little digest post about all the fun we were up to while we were gone.

So stay tuned!

A Trip to Ferryland

The day dawned foggy and damp but we were convinced it would improve, so the Pie and I piled Rusty, Mags, and Gren into our rented car and drove an hour and a half south of St. John’s to the town of Ferryland (population: ~529).  This was the third time the Pie and I had made it to Ferryland, but the first time that we were really able to appreciate it.  On previous occasions, we had arrived in town after an afternoon of iceberg hunting and were too tired to take the time to walk around this historical settlement.  This year is a bad one for icebergs, however, so we were rested and refreshed and raring to go.

I’ll give you a little background on Ferryland.

Originally an acclaimed fishing location for migratory French and Portuguese fishermen at the end of the sixteenth century, the area, known as “Farilham” by the Portuguese and “Forillon” by the French, was granted to the London and Bristol Company in the early 1610s.  “Ferryland” is the Anglicization of those names.

In 1620, the land was granted to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (there are nearby settlements called Calvert and Baltimore, respectively, and yes, this is the same Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, MD).  In 1623 Calvert appointed a dude named Edward Wynne to establish a colony there, which grew into one of the first successful European establishments in North America.  In 1623 as well, King James I granted Calvert a charter creating the Province of Avalon.  This gave Calvert carte blanche to control all administrative and territorial matters in the area, and he chose Ferryland as its principal settlement.

Like many settlements in Newfoundland, the rich fishing grounds around Ferryland were much sought after, and Ferryland suffered a raid from the Dutch in the 1670s, before being decimated by New France in 1696.  It was soon reoccupied, and has remained so to this day, predominantly by Irish and English descendants.  There is an active archeological dig site, which shows you how Lord and Lady Baltimore lived nearly four hundred years ago. 

There is lots to see in Ferryland.  Unfortunately, when we went this time all of the exhibits were closed due to a water problem.  Still, the historic Ferryland Museum has an immense collection of artifacts recovered from the dig site, and is a historical artifact itself, dating back to 1916.

The principal attraction in Ferryland, however, is the Ferryland Head Lighthouse. 

A two-kilometre walking trail stretches across The Downs and along a narrow strip of land sandwiched between two green coves. 

A stunted forest opens onto a rocky promontory, atop which sits the lighthouse itself, a sturdy red tower with a squat white house attached.

If you go into the lighthouse, you’ll meet the Lighthouse Ladies, who, for $25 a person, will provide you with a scrumptious picnic lunch.  

They’ll give you a signal flag and a picnic blanket and send you outside to find a good spot in the cushy undergrowth to have your lunch. 

Once you’re settled, they’ll bring you your lunch in a basket: hearty sandwiches on thick oatmeal bread, rich pasta salad, melt-in-your-mouth desserts, and fresh, tart lemonade, served in Mason jars.  Just some more shots of this amazing al fresco meal:

After your post-lunch nap (the ground really is nice and soft here, believe it or not), you can explore the area around the lighthouse.

This is Rusty and Mags getting their first taste of the North Atlantic.

Some radioactively green algae:

A rusty thingamajig:

An awesome example of geological strata:Then you have the long trek back to civilization.  But so worth it.

Check it out for yourself!

Lighthouse Picnics

Ferryland Municipal Website

Ferryland Wikipedia Page

Colony of Avalon Archaeological Site

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Ferryland Page

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