Spring Time In The Big Apple (Part 1)


Spring Time…for those of us who live in Florida, it always seems to end as all the college students pack up their cars and head back to their campuses and the temperatures seem to soar higher and higher.  For the rest of the country, spring always seems to last a little bit longer with relatively cool temperatures and lush landscapes.  Although, I’ve already escaped the heat a month prior to Alaska, it seemed like to time to head off to somewhere for the weekend.  The fact that a major motorcycle rally that occurs during early May (Thunder Beach) always gives me the reasoning to head out of town.  While I like the fact that they come here and spend all sorts of money supporting the local economy, I just can’t stand being around when they are here.  Traffic gets bad, bars get packed, and since I live near a major road, I constantly hear the roar of the bikes going by.  On top of all this, it also happened to be birthday that weekend, and quite frankly I didn’t want to be around not being able to go anywhere because of the crowds.

So, I started to look.  I was checking out hotels in New York City and other places such as San Francisco and Washington, DC.  I actually found what looked like some pretty good deals and for certain was going to book something.  I then for whatever reason decided to check my email after spending about 45 minutes of clicking around on the SPG website.  Without realizing it, I noticed that timestamped 15 minutes prior was a reservation confirmation for a hotel.  And not just some cheap hotel, but the W New York.  Oh, and it was non-refundable.  I was not sure how I booked the room; of course I was signed into my Starwood account, which had payment information saved into, but I could have sworn that I never clicked “reserve” and certainly never proceeded past the summary page before you click confirm.

I was scared – the rate was a bit higher than what I am usually comfortable paying for a hotel room.  As I went into panic mode I first tried calling the SPG Gold line and they could do nothing.  Secondly, I then called the hotel (mind you this was at like 11pm), who took note of my details, but no one could help me tonight.  While on the phone talking to the person taking my details, I figured that I would at least sleep on it and who knows maybe actually not fight this.  When I woke up the next morning, I knew what I had to do: go to New York City.  Shortly there after I secured an award ticket on Delta for the following weekend and I was all set to go.

Friday, May 4, 2012
Since I was booked on a late afternoon flight out of Panama City, I knew I would have to leave work a little early.  I unfortunately had a ton of work to get done before leaving and on top of that several coworkers wanted to go out for lunch in celebration of my Birthday, which was the next day.  As things tends to go, everything was running late and I didn’t leave from my lunch until about 2:30 and my departure was at 3:59.  I wasn’t super worried, but if traffic was heavy from the bikers, then the 30 minute+ drive to the airport could take even longer.  Luckily I had no checked bags, security was quick, and I was at the gate just a few minutes before boarding began.  One of the many reasons I like the airport here!

The flight up to Atlanta was pretty standard with my upgrade clearing in advance.  That meant I got to kick off my birthday weekend with a quick drink before landing.  Everything was on time, layover was very standard and I pretty much just wandered around a bit before settling in at the gate.  Luckily on my ATL-LGA leg I had been upgraded as well.  Once we hit cruising altitude, the flight attendants came through the cabin to take meal orders, and the options seemed to fit the ATL-LGA route quite perfectly: Option #1 was a pastrami sandwich while Option #2 was fried chicken.  I mean there is nothing more that says Delta is an Atlanta-based airline, than having a First Class meal option of fried chicken.  I felt obliged to go with that, mostly just out of curiosity.  Well it turned out really to be two massive chicken tenders served with honey mustard, a very small amount of potato salad, fruit, “bread sticks” and a slice of key lime pie.  It was served cold, but for whatever reason, fried chicken is one of those foods that translates decently enough as a cold dish.  Otherwise, the remainder of the flight was pretty standard and I arrived on time.

Delta First Class Meal - Fried Chicken

As I usually do, I hailed a cab outside the terminal and headed into midtown Manhattan.  About 20 minutes later, I arrived at my hotel for the weekend the W New York.  Since it was already a bit on the late side, as I entered the lobby, loud music was raging from the lobby bar.  Part of the W Hotels experience I guess, but it can make it difficult to interact with the front desk staff.  I found out that I was given a room on the 9th floor and asked what I wanted for my SPG Gold check-in amenity (free internet, of course).  I was hoping that between my room rate and SPG status that I would be upgraded from the Wonderful Room that I booked, or at least one with a decent view.  Once I got to my room and opened the door I found I got exactly what I booked…and it was small; no upgrade or anything.  Now I’m used to some small hotel rooms in NYC and even smaller overseas, but I still expected a slightly larger room than what I got.  Oh, and then there was the view out my window – the hallway on the other side of the hotel – fantastic.  Essentially, these first few impressions just made me feel that for what I paid, this hotel just isn’t that great of a value.

W New York - Wonderful Room

W New York - Bathroom

W New York - #1 View In New York City

After settling in to my room, I headed out on foot.  I didn’t have anywhere particular in mind, but I did eventually find myself near the Halal food cart at 53rd and 6th.  Even though I did have dinner, I couldn’t resist it, especially with the line not too terribly long.  After chowing down I wandered for a little while longer before getting back to my hotel around midnight or so.

Saturday, May 5, 2012
Cinco de Mayo – My birthday, and half of the reason I was in NYC in the first place.  I didn’t have much of a plan so I slept in a bit and found myself craving pancakes, so I walked to a place called Madison Restaurant, a diner that I had seen on a few places online.  It wasn’t that busy and the breakfast I ordered was massive and very good – and I got my fill of pancakes.  The only thing I could have dealt without was the table next to me talking loudly about a movie I wanted to see.  Thanks for ruining it.

Madison Restaurant - Pancakes, Egges, Sausage

With breakfast out of my way, I had to figure out what to do next.  I jumped on a subway towards Penn Station with the intent of stopping by B&H Photo to do some browsing and shopping.  There was just one problem with that plan: they aren’t open on Saturdays!  With that Idea firmly squashed, I passed through the belly of the beast (Times Square) before heading to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.  Despite having been to NYC several times, I’ve never found myself here.  I opted to go for the guided tour option which nearly doubled my ticket because for whatever reason, I assumed that this meant you got to go into various areas of the ship.  Really what it meant was that we had a tour guide explain some of the exhibits in the hanger bay as well as getting closer to some of the display aircraft.  I guess under that aspect that made it interesting, since we got to go behind the rope and stand underneath a Lockheed A-12 (predecessor of the SR-71 Blackbird) as well as other aircraft such as an F-14 Tomcat of HH-52 Seaguard Helicopter.  Although one of the cooler moments was riding on one of the aircraft elevators from the hanger deck to the flight deck – never thought I would get to do that!

USS Intrepid - Hangar Bay

USS Intrepid - Aircraft Elevator

USS Intrepid - Flight Deck Island

USS Intrepid - MiG-17 "Fresco"

USS Intrepid - Helicopters (UH-1 Huey, AH-1J Sea Cobra, AH-1 Cobra, H-19 Chickasaw, HH-52A Seaguard)

USS Intrepid - Lockheed A-12

And of course, since the Intrepid is a ship, there are plenty of spaces that have been preserved on-board the ship for viewing.  I toured through the bridge and the Combat Information Center, noting the severely old technology that at one time was state of the art.  There were also the pilot ready rooms, but unfortunately you could only look at these spaces through glass – no getting up close and personal.  Eventually, I found myself to be done and figured that it was time to find lunch.  Nothing in the Times Square seemed interesting, so I jumped back on the subway and headed to the Greenwich Village area.  After wandering around for a bit, being the indecisive person that I am, I settled on a place called BareBurger.

USS Intrepid - Pilot Ready Room

I’m always game for finding great burgers while traveling and this place definitely gets a spot on my burger list.  For starters, its located slightly south of Washington Square Park on Laguardia Place and they place an emphasis on organic selections ranging from meats to vegetables.  The location is fantastic, as Laguardia Place is tree lined and they have an outdoor patio out front – a perfect place to sit in the afternoon with a pint of beer and a burger.  For the burgers, they had multiple different options for meat including beef, chicken, bison and even ostrich!  Not being sure how much the ostrich cost (listed as market rate), I went with the Maple Bacon Cheeseburger with bison….and it was excellent!  It was damn near perfect and I know that on future trips if I’m finding myself getting hungry while hanging out in Washington Square Park, well then I know where to go.

BareBurger Patio (Laguardia Place)

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the city, popping in and out of a few stores before heading back to the hotel to get cleaned up for the night.  I made a stop in the hotel bar first, before heading a good bit north on the island…to where streets have three digits.  I wound up at the Harlem Tavern, a place that I had been to before last October and found it to be decent.  I remember that they had a decent beer selection, but this time the rotation wasn’t as inspiring.  I did have several good pints of beer along with my dinner, but I made one mistake in selection towards the end, getting one particular beer (Abita Jockamo) that I just am not very fond of, despite the fact that I pretty much enjoy 99% of all IPAs.

I was here for a while before I eventually stumbled out and back to the subway station to head back down into midtown.  I wandered some, including as far down as the Empire State Building (had thought about going to the top, but there was low cloud cover) and a few other stops before finally winding up at McGees Pub on 55th.  Known as the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ bar (supposedly the bar on that show is modeled after this place, and not for other reasons), I devoured some late night cheese sticks while working on a few pints of Sam Adams before hailing a cab back to the hotel.

Empire State Building At Night

By the time I got back to my room, I’m pretty sure it was at least 2AM, which always means that getting up the next morning could be difficult.  Seeing as how I just don’t make it a regular habit to stay out until past 2AM, I knew there was a risk that I would sleep in really late tomorrow and eat into more of my time in the city.  All I could do was drink some water (hydrate!), set multiple alarms, and hope for the best.

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