Friday, February 16, 2007

Top 5+5 New York

There are apparently some New Yorkers who read my blog, and I am completely aware that they will probably cringe and frown at my choice of their city’s top 10 attractions. However, as somebody who has visited the Big Apple literally dozens of times, I think I have a decent prospective of someone “in the know”, however geared towards the first time visitor, without going too deep into the “hidden” treasures of the City, which every native has a list of and swears by. The real challenge with New York is actually picking just 10 attractions, as there are way more than that.

However, you have never been to New York and have only about a week, this is what I think you should visit. And by the way, one of the reason I lumped some of these together is because they are within walking distance from each other, and the best way to see New York is to WALK.

1) Times Square and Midtown East. Chances are, you will see Times Square many times during your visit, as it is a major hub of Manhattan’s traffic, both under- and over ground. I personally think it is at its best at night, when it flares up in the myriads of very elaborate neon lights, gargantuan LCD screens, running news headlines, whiskey and TV show electronic billboards, not to mention all the restaurants and hotels staring down at this rather small piece of New York’s real estate. It can literally make your head spin, but as far as I am concerned, if someone asked me to describe capitalism in one word, I would say, “Times Square”. That’s two words, actually.

As for restaurants, I’d skip most around Times Square as huge tourist traps. However, if you feel like lounging in a posh bar in the late hours, definitely check out the bar at W hotel. Beautiful people, excellent martinis.

Speaking of martinis, if you want to try to the best apple martini ever, check out Russian Vodka Room on W. 52nd Street between 8th and Broadway, a short stroll away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. It is Russian without being “in your face”. This tiny place manages to combine old-Russian charm with hip youthfulness. This is on Russian bistro where no American will feel out of place. Truly delicious cocktails, tasty Russian small plates, live piano music – all that makes it a must visit for me every time I am in New York.

A short walk along 42nd street east will take you to the beautiful Grand Central Terminal. Come inside to gaze at the amazing vaulted roof and eat at some of the surprisingly good cafes inside.

Another interesting place to visit around Times Square is the International Center of Photography, located on 43rd and 6th. Their museum features some very famous photographers.

2) Central Park and Museum Mile. I’ve lumped these 2 together to allow for more stuff to squeeze into the top 5+5, in my endless care for my readers. In reality, these are 3 separate attractions, but you can visit them all combined on foot. Central Park – well, it’s just the most famous urban park in America, with lakes, benches, rocks, families with strollers, performers, squirrels. Oh, and it has trees, too.

Metropolitan Museum is my favourite in the New York. It is one of the greatest museums of the world, for many reasons, but to me, the most fascinating is its extensive collections of impressionist artists. They suggest an admission price of $20, but if you are cheap, you don’t really have to pay that, or pay half or so.

Guggenheim Museum (a few blocks to the north along the 5th Ave, but you can also stroll there through the park) is mostly interesting for its architecture. Unless you are seriously into modern art and not pressed for time, you might even want to skip the exhibitions. If you visit on Friday after 5.45 pm, you can pay what you wish instead of the normal admission price of $18.

3) East Village, Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park. This is the heart of Bohemian New York, although locals would probably argue that Greenwich Village’s days of glory are long gone because of the extraordinarily high real estate costs. This is the New York you see on “Friends”, even though nowadays, such a group of dufuses (or is it dufi?) could never afford rent here. Washington Square Park is the heart of the district, with the famous Arch and crowds of loiterers, chess players, skateboarders and simply bums hanging around. Broadway divides East Village from Greenwich Village, although I still have trouble remembering which one is which. The shops on Broadway are funky and trendy, and might even have some bargains, although most have now ventured into the area of hip urban couture.

Some of the bars in this area that I recall (also including Lower East Side) are: McSorley’s Old Ale House, Korova Milk Bar (with its Clockwork Orange theme), Max Fish… but there are literally dozens if not hundreds of them in this ‘hood.

4) Lower Manhattan and Staten Island Ferry. This is best seen during daytime, as this is a more sombre sight now than most, and besides, this part of New York is pretty much dead at night.

Obviously, there’s the Ground Zero. Go on, take a look.

There’s Wall Street – the financial heart of it all, although the street itself is rather unimpressive, but nowhere else in NYC deep canyons of narrow streets are as striking.

There’s Trinity Church – one of the oldest parish churches in Manhattan, still standing there with its graveyards – an oddity among all the skyscrapers.

Take a stroll all the way to the southern tip of Manhattan; enjoy the view of Statue of Liberty. You might want to take a boat to Liberty Island and/or Ellis Island with its Immigration museum, but if you are pressed for time but would still like to look at the Manhattan skyline from the water, take the free Staten Island ferry there and immediately back. I can’t think of any good reason to remain on Staten Island for more than 5 minutes.

5) Meatpacking District. What visit to New York is complete without a good sampling of its nightlife? And what better place to see its best than the Meatpacking District? Bordered roughly by W. 15th Street, Hudson Street, Gansevoort Street and 11th Avenue, it actually still has wholesale meat warehouses. If that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, pop into any of the very trendy bars, lounges and cafes in this neighbourhood. Just remember to dress to impress. This ain’t San Francisco, and door policies as well as dress codes are enforced. Hitting the gym before going there wouldn’t hurt either, as I did witness several somewhat oversized women turned down by a bouncer.

A good place to start would be Hotel Gansevoort itself, with a swanky lounge on its top floor.

The other 5 attractions are only marginally less interesting than the previous ones, and should be visited on any trip lasting more than 3 days.

6) Midtown Manhattan and Rockefeller Center. I am talking about the area between 6th and Lexington, and somewhere from 50th up to Central Park South. This is most interesting around Christmas and New Year, but even at other times, it’s practically unavoidable. Let’s see… it’s got tons of shopping, people in expensive clothes, Plaza hotel, shopping, horse carriages, Trump Tower, shopping, skating rink, observation decks, shopping, sculpture, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shopping, Museum of Modern Art…. And did I mention shopping? But stuff your wallet silly beforehand, unless of course you limit your shopping spree to H&M.

7) Coney Island. If you have been too urbaned out from days of wandering around Manhattan, take a D, F, N or Q train to Coney Island, New York’s answer to Ocean Beach (although why would New York have to answer to anyone?). It’s kinda filthy and gets extremely crowded in summer, but it’s reachable by subway, and it’s still firmly within the limits of the 5 boroughs. It is also home to an amusement parks including The Cyclone. Ride if you dare – it’s one of the oldest WOODEN roller coasters in the US. If you are lucky, you might also catch the sight of a certain Mr. Takeru Kobayashi chomping down hotdogs by the dozen at the (in)famous Nathan’s shop.

8) Roosevelt Island. If you don’t have time to spend half a day at Coney Island, there is an alternative for an island getaway much closer to Manhattan. Roosevelt Island, a residential retreat in the middle of the East River, is worth checking out just for a ride in the Tramway, which in reality is a cable-suspended gondola ride above East Side and parallel to Queensboro Bridge.
The island itself is worth a stroll towards its southern side, for great views of Manhattan and a peek into an old Smallpox Hospital ruin.

9) Chinatown and Little Italy. New York’s Chinatown has nothing on San Francisco’s, but if you’ve never seen one, it’s worth a check. Little Italy, directly adjacent to Chinatown, is a tad more interesting, as it does retain a bit of the spirit of the old country, and some of the restaurants are supposed to be excellent. I couldn’t name any from the top of my head, though.

10) United Nations. I visited the UN building on one of my first visits to New York. This, after all, was the New York I heard of since childhood, and even the building was so familiar as if I had been there already. This is technically a parcel of land that belongs to no single nation but rather the whole world (minus Vatican, which is not a member of the UN). It is no surprise they picked New York for the UN’s headquarters – the city itself is the most international in America and maybe even the world, with a possible competition from London.

Take a tour of the premises and remember that despite American disrespect to it lately, UN is the true world organization that brings all the countries together.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My New Vision

Last week I had my LASIK operation. It was preceded by days of agonizing dilemmas, as there are quite a few choices available for this common procedure. Conventional LASIK or custom? Microkeratome or Intralase? Private doctor or a national chain?

I had a lot of people telling me not to skimp out - "it is your eyes". And I was not going to do it in a shopping mall centre for an advertised price of $599 per eye. But when it came to serious choices, I had to ask myself, whether I am paying for a doctor's expertise or his overhead and expensive advertising.

Finally, I went with LasikPlus national chain. Their MD seemed just as experienced as others I considered, with the same equipment for less money.

Some of the things you who considers the procedure should know.

1) There is a significant preparation period of about a week, when you cannot wear contact lenses. For me, it required some adjustments to the schedule.

2) Whoever tells you LASIK is not a big deal, is not telling the truth. It is a big deal, it is a real surgery, it is invasive, and there are dozens of potential complications and side effects, although they are supposedly rare.

3) Unless you go with the much more expensive Intralase technology, there IS a metal blade involved in the operation. And it is controlled by your surgeon's hand. It is used to cut the "flap" on your cornea.

4) You can actually see the doctor lifting up a thin part of your cornea before the laser beam is directed in your eye.

5) You can smell burning flesh when the laser beam reshapes your eye.

6) Although you do not feel pain, your eyelids are held open with a restrainer and there is a significant pressure applied directly to your eyeball when the doctor cuts your cornea and beams it with the laser.

7) You do not see clearly immediately after the operation - you see things as if underwater for a few hours.

8) You will feel as if your eyes have been injured and are very sensitive for a couple of days.

9) You will be on a strict regimen of expensive eye drops for a week. You will have to wear extremely uncomfortable goggles while sleeping for a week as well.

10) But you will see the world clearly the next day after the operation. Yay!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Harden your nipples!

Browsing the internet, I stumbled upon this 1940s Soviet poster. It says, "Are you looking after your breasts? Harden your nipples with daily washing with cold water!"

So, to show how much I care about my female readers, I decided to post this friendly reminder about this very important procedure.