Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Being a Tourist in NYC

This is the three of us making our way home from dinner at the end of day one in New York City! Do we look happy or what? I didn’t write yesterday at all, and that was because I was suffering from sheer exhaustion and we were all babbling about what we’d done during the day. We ended the day with dinner in a very nice restaurant (a tapas bar again but it wasn’t as good as the one we went to in Pittsburgh) We must have been fairly entertaining in our excited chatter as we ate at the bar....a patron AND the bartender kept buying us drinks and giving us special coffees. Thank you to Roy, the other customer, and to the bartender. We will never forget our time with you. We walked home down "Restaurant Row", stopped a total stranger and asked him to take pictures of us....and when we got to the hotel room....we crashed.

We planned to get up early today but even Linda (who is an insanely early riser) slept till 7:30 so we didn’t get out of our room till 8:30 this morning! Listen to me....like that’s late! But it is when there is so much to fit into so little time.

We started yesterday by going to Times Square and getting bus tickets to go on tours. These buses have no roof and they drive around through all the yellow cabs with a guide explaining the buildings and telling details about each famous building or store. It was incredibly interesting but cold. They are “Hop off Hop On” tours, which means they stop at designated places and you can get out and wander around for a bit and then get on another bus....they come by every 20 minutes. That ticket also includes free passes to get in to things like the art galleries, museums, Empire State Bldg etc. The passes are only good for two days though so we haven’t used them yet as we want to make the best use of them, and so far we didn’t have to pay to get into anything.

As soon as we had those tickets, we got on a bus and got started. We started with the “downtown” tour, which goes from Times Square and out through the different areas and past all the famous buildings. It winds through streets and is a great vantage point to see the city from. We drove past “Ground Zero” and the driver explained what that day was like. It isn’t a memorial at all. It’s a huge space in the middle of the financial district (which is all tall square modern buildings and very very upscale. I took pictures of the area from the bus, but at this point it looks like a major construction site with diggers and stuff behind the high solid fence. The tour guide said that the impact of those buildings coming down damaged buildings around them, and underneath as well.

I didn’t know it but the Federal Reserve of gold was in vaults under those two towers, and because it went down so far, they have to do major work to the ground to get it ready to put anything on after that. Really quite amazing. And I didn’t know either that the federal reserve is a pile of gold bricks that was intended to be backup financing for the country. When I asked why they don’t get it out and fix their economy I was told that it wasn’t enough anymore.....that they have printed so much paper money that has NO backup that they have even taken “legal tender” off the paper money and the gold just sits there because it wouldn’t even make a dent in the debt load. (The tour guide didn’t tell me that.....another passenger did when he heard me say to Angie that they should dig it out and use it instead of keeping it buried. )

Manhattan is an island. I didn’t know that either. And when I said earlier that they were “wasting” waterfront, I didn’t know either that the island wasn’t this big when the Dutch bought it from the natives for 60 guilders. They have brought stuff in and added land and the island is bigger now. In fact one tour guide said when we drove past a particular area that the waterfront was on this street during New York’s golden age, and has since been expanded and another burrough built on it!
It seems there is a lot of “gentrification” as the guides call it. Everywhere you go there are buildings wrapped in scaffolding and netting and they are being re-surfaced, updated or torn down. Some of the tour guides are older people who grew up in New York City and you can tell in their voices and the way they phrase things that they resent these changes. There is no “little Italy” anymore because Chinatown has encroached on it. Chinatown was somewhere we didn’t get off the bus. It is horrible and ...well...there’s no other word for it. And we really saw it too because last Thursday the “famous Hong Kong Market” burned to the ground. There is suspicion about it being a case of arson by another group of citizens is the way the guide put it. But the building apparently blew up, caught on fire, burned to the ground, and a tenement that was beside it fell into the ashes. You could see the top part of the tenement open to the sky, and there was a bent and broken bedstead on the pile of stuff being put into trucks to take it away. Because of all this, the bus had to detour from its regular route and I have to admit to feeling more secure up on top of a bus than I ever would on those streets.

From there we went past Central Park but we chose not to get off there as we want to take the time to walk in there and didn’t have enough time left to do that before the last bus would come by so we just watched it go by and stayed on the bus. In actuality, I have realized that with good shoes you could walk almost anywhere here as it’s actually only 2 ½ miles wide and I forget how long. But we wanted to squeeze in as much as we can with our three day bus passes and then spend Friday doing stuff we wanted to do and take the subway to it (like see Grand Central Station and walk in Central Park).

Another thing I learned is that “Times Square” isn’t just an open square. It is a square of streets and avenues that encompasses the theatre district, has a ton of junky souvenir shops, some very expensive brand name stores and some restaurants in it. The part we all see on TV at New Years Eve is just a little piece in the middle of it all and it’s being changed too. By the end of this year it will be all walking and sitting around space surrounded with theatres and HUGE billboards. There won’t be traffic going through it anymore, which is another thing the local people seem to resent and they call it the “Disneyfication” of Times Square.
And then there’s the billboards. They are unbelievably big. The tour guide pointed out the one for Budweiser and said that it costs FOUR MILLION dollars to rent that for a year. I nudged Linda and said “Now you know where all your money is going.” She laughed at that and agreed (it’s her brand)! Some of them are billboards as we all know them, just like along the highway etc., but even those are about 5 times as big as normal ones. And the rest are lit up and play films so they are constantly changing and moving. They are so big and there’s so many of them that it is like daylight in that area all night.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday Evening in Times Square

I fell asleep on the bed in the hotel room. I was awakened by a porter walking into the room. Linda had arrived, I had all the keys, and when she knocked I didn’t awaken! Poor girl stood in the hall waiting for me for about ½ hour and then gave up and went back down to the desk to get a key. They wouldn’t give her one, but sent her up with a porter and a master key. He was checking to see if I was OK with her joining me! It wasn’t much later that Angie arrived. So what can we do at 11:30 at night, but get out there and see the lights and feel the pulse of the city! I think we probably were the perfect vision of a tourist....walking around with our heads staring upwards. The lights, billboards and traffic are absolutely astounding. Here’s Linda and Angie, right in the middle of Times Square, just absorbing the fact that we are actually here.

These red plexiglass bleachers are right in the middle of the street. There are at least two lanes of traffic whizzing by on both sides of this, horns honking continually......it's actually incredibly difficult to describe the feeling. It's true that you feel the city's pulse as soon as you are there. And here's what we were looking at!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New York City Here We Come....The Big Apple

Here I am in the airport and guess what.....the little pair of scissors I bought at the market made it through in my carry on baggage and will be right with me from Pittsburgh to NYC. So I can now stitch on the airplane.

Last night I took Linda to the tapas bar, Seviches, for dinner again. I liked it so much that I didn't mind doing it again and she was absolutely fascinated watching all the chefs put stuff together. (She is a camp cook for very hard working men when she is at home). She talked with them about the stove, the ingredients and got them all so interested in where she lives and what she does that they got talking back and I benefited because they made three extra dishes for her (and me) to try and they didn't charge us for them. So she's a tapas expert now. I told her I'll expect it when we go to her place. She said she was thoroughly enjoying eating stuff that was not meat, potatoes and gravy.

And with Linda along...someone with a sense of direction.....we walked back to the hotel without one wrong turn. Wouldn't you know....my last day and I finally know my way.

This morning I was up on time. Linda woke up and told me to get up and she went back to sleep! I had my shower, packed, and headed to the shuttle I had reserved. Linda didn’t have to leave till late morning. All came together well. I had planned to send my business clothes, laundry and samples home ahead of me, but the customs and Fed-Ex arrangements were outrageous. When I told Linda about that, she said she would take it with her on Amtrak and she said she'd probably be able to do the same for me when we leave NYC because she is travelling really light.....has one little bag! I so wish I could figure out how to do that. Altho I must say that I have worn everything I brought and nothing was wasted so I definitely planned for the Pittsburgh part right! Now if it's not too hot in New York, I'll be fine. Yesterday was so hot I took a shower after walking home. Today it's at least 20 degrees colder and actually feels better...especially for travelling.

So I'm off to LaGuardia airport, another shuttle, and a day in New York all by myself....Ang and Linda arrive about midnight.

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Arrival in New York City

The Colorful Plane!

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I had trouble sleeping last night because I was afraid I would miss the alarm and then the plane! But Linda rolled over at about 4:30 and said “Gladys, don’t you have to get up?” and then she rolled over and went back to sleep! I couldn’t sleep anymore and lay looking out the window at all the tall buildings until the phone call came from the front desk. I got up, showered, packed my incidentals and was out the door to get the shuttle.

The black woman driving the shuttle was great. She was having a hard time with the person on the radio from her office who wanted to argue about how many people she had in the van! She eventually just shut the radio off and said “Aw juz gives her de confirmation numbers at dee end of da day an she can arga wid hersef.’ All the passengers....all from the Quilt Market, laughed at that one. We got to the airport in about half an hour, I checked in, got a cup of tea, sent an email I think, and then we boarded the plane. American Airlines....and it was a little tiny plane which when it flew over the city gave me visions of standing on the wing in the Hudson River. The flight was fairly uneventful.....I fell asleep and woke myself up when my head dropped a couple of times, but it was cloudy up high so I didn’t miss anything. When we got over the city they made an announcement about beginning their descent, which woke me up. I was lucky enough to be in the single seat on the left side with a window. The view from the air was pretty fantastic.....New York City goes for miles and miles and there are a lot of tributaries reaching into the land mass. And a lot of industrial businesses like oil refineries right on the edge of most of them! Must be because the big ships can get to them but it seemed a waste of waterfront! I was surprised at how many green spaces there are amongst the subdivisions. The residential areas looked like they have lots of little parks.
The airport is huge and the plane coasted for quite some time before it stopped and let us off. The photo above is a plane we passed during that tour. I thought it the prettiest most colourful plane I’ve ever seen! When I got my luggage, I bought a bus ticket for $12.00 and arrived at Grand Central Station about 12:30 p.m. The bus was supposed to go to Times Square too which is where I wanted to get off. When it got to Grand Central, (which didn’t look as great as it does in pictures but a few days later I realized this was the back alley area....it’s spectacular at the other entrance and breathtaking inside.)
The bus stopped here, a man got off and asked something. He apparently didn’t get the answer he wanted as he started arguing and waving his hands. The driver and the porter ignored him and he got on the bus and yelled at all of the people left on the bus that if they thought they were going to Times Square, we’d been lied to and it was only going to Penn Station. He stood there waving his arms and raging for a while and then got his bag and we all got off. I don’t know where he went. He disappeared. But a black lady in uniform checked with each one of us and asked where were we going and then said “jez a minit ... Ah be right back” and walked across the street and around the corner and in two minutes was back with a van. She loaded the four of us into her van and headed towards our hotels. Right to the door. She too was annoyed with her person in the office. She said “Ever tahm he on de bawd I’s got to argoo all day wid him!” Can you tell I was totally fascinated with their speech? I could happily have stood around just listening to people for hours, both in Pittsburgh and in New York!
She let the business men off at their hotels and then brought me right to the door of mine. Believe me....New York is everything they say it is and more. I commented on it and she said “Honey, you jez wait faw tomorah....dis here is Sunday an tomorah a ho difren stawry.” She drove that van like there was nobody out there and I swear was within centimetres (they’re smaller than inches) of the other vehicles. The intersections are gridlocked, she just pulled out and around someone who didn’t turn fast enough and cut him off. She says “Look at dat guy waving his fist at me! If’n he wan’t so dumb we be der awready.” Four lanes wide, yellow cabs EVERYWHERE, horns honking, and when there’s a yard opened up they step on the gas and go for it! Music blaring from all the flashing billboards, it’s incredibly different!
I checked into our hotel, which is clean but old and small, and certainly not in the same class that we stayed in at Pittsburgh. I settled into what will be my corner of the room, sorted out my stuff and then decided to go for a walk. (I couldn’t sleep...I did try to have a nap). I decided this was not some place I wanted to risk being out alone in the dark so I better get something to eat and drink before then. (There is no coffee or tea machine in the room! But, there are coffee shops all over the place down on the street.
So I went out the door and in a concerted effort not to get lost, walked to the end of the block, turned left, walked two blocks, turned left, and when I wanted to head home I turned left again, walked two blocks, turned left again and guess what! I made it! So since it was still light and interesting, I did the same thing over again only turning right. That’s when I found the street that was closed to traffic and a street market was going on. All kinds of the weirdest foods being cooked in the street.....all kinds of jewellery and designer bags, shoes and shawls , stuff like that.....everything seemed to be $2, or $10 or $20.00! It was very interesting. I took a picture of one BBQ ....I’ve been known to call Bob a hillbilly, but this one beat anything I’ve ever seen him do....and didn’t look to appetizing either! I’ll try to remember to attach a picture of it!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

PITTSBURGH Street Market Wanderings

There was a day in Pittsburgh that Linda and I went to a street market. It was delightful in that it was situated in an old district of warehouses. There were so many things to see, buy and eat there. We wandered through and talked to the sellers, bought some t-shirts and stopped for a glass of wine and people watched. A delightful sunny afternoon in friendly interesting surroundings. On the walk back to our hotel room, we passed this plaque. There are plaques like this all over downtown Pittsburgh, all very serious and informative, but this was my favorite.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Last Day & Seviches

Today Jan had book signing in the publisher's booth at 11:30 and I at 1:00 p.m. I don't know how her's went because I didn't see her there...I was wandering and mingling with suppliers and lost track of time. Mine went well in that I talked to a few people, but I didn't sign one book! I am there at 3 tomorrow and I hope at least one person would like my autograph! So we went our separate ways when we got there, and then I wandered around through the booths looking at what is presented. I didn't understand why all the booths had tables and chairs at them until I got there today. The sales people in the booths are dealing with store owners so they actually sit down and place huge orders at each booth. And there is every kind of booth you can imagine. It's a godsend (financially) that I couldn't buy anything but odds and ends.....they sell buttons at a minimum of 12 of the same one. Fringe by the card.... and fabric by the bolt, patterns at a minimum of six, and thread by the display rack!

But I did find a booth with scissors. It really annoyed me when the security people took the ones I thought would be ok away because I had hours ahead of me with nothing to do and nobody to talk to because Linda was not on the plane with me. So I talked to this guy in the booth and he sold me a pair of scissors that I CAN have on the plane. They are sold as airplane approved.
And now that I’m home, I can tell you that they went through US and Canadian Security checks without anyone batting an eye. Here they are…..

Jan arrived at the room and we went out to dinner at a Tapas Bar. We were lucky to arrive at happy hour so everything was half price. So we each had a mojito, my first. It was delicious, and we tried 8 different kinds of Tapas. I think I actually liked the mojito drink because of the way it was described…..”Vodka, mango juice and “muddled Mint”, which just means mint that’s been squashed so it releases some of it’s oils into the drink…but “muddled” sounded so much more intriquing! It looked really pretty. Bob would have loved the food presentation. We sat at the bar and watched 5 chefs prepare the food and they served it looking so wonderful we took pictures of it.....the kids working there thought we were hilarious....and then asked where we were from! I guess it was pretty obvious we are tourists!

After that we went to Burlington Coat Factory and bought a t-shirt. $7.00! I can't believe the prices there. Yes I know that's US dollars but even when you do the math, that's less than at home for a plain t-shirt at Winners! I am beginning to see why people go across the border to shop! By then it was about 8 and we had decided we would go to the hotel and have desert and tea and then come to our room and pack. Jan leaves tomorrow.

We got to the restaurant without any wrong turns this time and decided to go for desert before going to our room. There are two girls in line for a table and they're wearing name tags from the convention. So Jan asked them to join us. They did and we had a delightful time with two people from Alberta, so it was three Canadians! And best of all the dessert was absolutely out of this world. I had Deep Fried Apple Cinnamon Cheesecake. It was a pastry full of flavored cream cheese, deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. With ice cream.......good thing I'm doing a lot of walking! I am NOT a foody type of person, but I do believe I could learn to be!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Isabella Street, Pittsburgh Bridges and Jan's I Phone!

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About one in the afternoon I walked back to the hotel with my suitcase, and put it in my room, changed, and then went back to the show and listened to more presentations. I didn't know where my room mate got to and had no way of calling or finding her, so I left and walked across the bridge right in front of the convention center to the "north side", walked a block through a residential section on "Isabella Street", and then crossed the river again on the next bridge. There is the 5th street bridge, the 6th street bridge, the Andy Warhol bridge, the Fort Pitt bridge and the Fort Duquesne bridge, all within view of each other! So I took photos of the bridges and the skylines.....very unique because it's all very old historical buildings mixed in with big tall modern buildings.

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When I got back to the hotel room and Jan was there. So we had a glass of wine together and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Fantastic food, but very skimpy portions. Bob would feel ripped off. I was quite satisfied with my scallops and asparagus with beet and goat cheese salad.

From there we went back to the Convention Center for "Sample Spree". Jan thought I should experience it, I thought it was extreme madness. The vendors in the market have booths in one room and they are selling kits and specials for phenomenally low prices. I bought a necklace made with old buttons and red wire! The artist is Susan Christie. Her work was stunning and I just couldn't leave this one there! I’m developing my “image”….a new hat, an outrageous necklace…hmmmm…what else can I do to stand out in a crowd!

And I got some samples and pamphlets as well, but I found it a little confusing and extremely noisy.....kind of like a shoe sale at the Army & Navy where people grab stuff from each other and push and shove. Yikes! I actually wanted to leave a while before we did and was relieved when I saw people starting to pack up!

When that was over, Jan and I and a whole crowd of other quilters left the center and headed for our hotels. The crowd thinned out as it progressed and our hotel is, I think, the furthest away. We went into a 7-11 to get a pop and some milk for our tea, and I think we turned the wrong way when we came out. We were walking along thinking we were headed in the right direction, but weren't seeing any familiar landmarks! And yes it was dark....about 10:30 p.m. and there were a LOT of people on the streets.....and not the ones I was fascinated with in the day time for the past two days! We were getting nervous. And then Jan pulled out her "I Phone" and hit the "map application" and typed in the name of the street we were on and the name of the street the hotel was on. We were WAY off the path. So we kept walking and she was watching her phone....it showed a little blue spot getting further and further away from our hotel. So we turned around and went the other way and the spot started moving closer to the hotel. We were thrilled to pieces when we saw buildings that we knew and streets that were better lit!!! She figures her phone paid for itself in that short time alone! She said she was a little scared and admired me for just keeping on keeping on.....I figured if we kept walking and just looked like we knew where we were and had no fear, it would be like animals....if we didnt exhibit any signs of fear, we wouldn't alert anyone to our insecurity! But I'll be honest.....tea wasn't ALL we drank when we got to our room!

Jan Krentz is an absolutely fantastic person. It was my privilege to be her room mate. She gave me hints about travelling and things that are very informative if I do this again. And she's very down-to-earth in the hotel room and we laugh and tell stories. She says she wants to keep in touch with me because I'm "a keeper". So is SHE! She's on her fourth book and she teaches full time all over the world. I would highly recommend her to anyone….having seen her samples first hand and spent time with her….I’d go to her class if she came to our area for sure. I'm really happy I got to room with her because it is comfortable and real, especially when you consider we’d never met before. Her new book is called "Quick Star Quilts & Beyond".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jan Krentz - My Room Mate

The best thing that happened to me in Pittsburgh was Jan Krentz, author of "Quick Star Quilts & Beyond (and 4 others and her own new design for specialty rulers). She is the fellow-author that C&T Publishing chose to be my roommate for the duration of Spring Quilt Market. Anyone would be nervous about staying with a complete stranger, but I have to say that if I had interviewed candidates to stay with me I probably would not have chosen as well as Jan! She was so much fun, we had so much in common, she was so helpful and informative and absolutely the nicest person you could hope to have as a room mate and friend. I believe we will stay in touch for years to come.
The night before I stayed with Linda at the Omni William Penn Hotel. It was very grand and luxurious and we enjoyed our stay there because we got it at the Spring Quilt Market rate. We arrived in Pittsburgh at midnight their time, but it was still early by our time. We were hungry. So we ordered room service. Quesadillas, and some wine! Wouldn’t you know I spilled tomato sauce on my white nightie. The next day we trundled our suitcases up the street to the hotel C&T had arranged for us, the Doubletree. Linda went to visit her cousins and I went shopping for a new nightie as I didn’t want my room mate to see me in my messy nightie and have a bad impression of me from the start.
Jan arrived at the room after I had fallen asleep the next night so I didn’t see her till morning. It was funny to roll over and say “Hi, you must be Jan.” She said “I am….that means you must be Gladys and I’m in the right room!” We laughed. Then she said “How do you like my pajamas?” She was wearing the pajamas I wear at home….the really comfy soft ones that make you feel safe and secure. I laughed and told her about my going to get a new nightie so she would think well of me! And from that point on, we enjoyed every minute we spent together. I look forward to and sincerely hope to have more!
Here’s a picture of us having a bagel for breakfast. We had a young couple in the restaurant take our picture with each of our cameras. It’s a terrible picture of me, but a very good one of Jan. I sure hope Jan’s picture turned out better than mine, but here we are.

Monday, May 11, 2009

And then there was Mark

And then there was Mark. What a wonderful experience. Linda and I were going to rent a car in Pittsburgh, and take the drive out to Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, Falling Waters. We didn’t think to rent it ahead of time. So when the hotel couldn’t find one for us and several phone calls netted zero results, we headed out to find a rental place recommended by the concierge. We wandered around for about an hour and were unable to find it. Pittsburgh has named alleys in the downtown core, so we missed that. Finally we went into a shopping mall and I approached a security person and asked if he could tell me how to find Economy Rentals because we were looking for a car. He decided the easiest way to get us there was to lead the way.

He headed out the door, down the street and around a corner, through an alley, around a construction barrier (we did begin to wonder where we were going), and suddenly there was a little place and it was what we were looking for. He escorted us in the door and explained what we needed. They had no cars. This is a picture of one of the buildings we passed in our journey.

But that wasn’t the end of his help. He took us outside again and down another street, through a couple more alleys, chatting all the time about where were we from, his children, saying hi to almost everyone he passed. Everyone seemed to know him. Turns out they were all people who work for him as he was the Senior Security person. We got to the second rental place and they didn’t have anything either. He was very frustrated with his city, which he is obviously very proud of, not being able to provide what we needed.

His next question was “Can you drive a stick?” I said “You mean a standard?” He said “Yeah, a stick!” I said I could thinking he knew of a rental place that had one. He said then “Well you can take my truck.” I said we wouldn’t do that. He said “Why not. It’s just parked and I won’t need it till 6 o’clock”. I said “What if we aren’t back by 6?” He said “Well then I call the police and report it stolen and you deal with them not me!” We laughed and thanked him very much but said we would just do other things today instead.

This is a photograph of the Renaissance Hotel. It faces the river that has six bridges on it....all within view of each other.

Mark's generous spirit and enthusiasm were an example of everyone we ran into in Pittsburgh. We didn’t get to Falling Waters, but we had a great day wandering around the downtown core.