NYC Winter Wonderland: Photostream

Wow! My trip to NYC really crept up quickly this year. My friend and I booked it all the way back in March (see my April post about planning for our vacation) and, at the time, we were thinking it was forever and a day away. But, before we knew it, it was the end of November and we only had a few more days to prep for our holiday. If there’s nothing else I’ve learned with this trip, I will walk away with the knowledge that time sure slows down for no one as we get older. I mean, it’s already been three weeks since we returned home and I’m only just getting to this post.

Aside from my contemplation of the passage of time, this, my sixth visit to the Big Apple, proved to be as spectacular as ever. All of my vacations in 2013 sprung up as a result of a concert and this was no different. Shopping and shows was the name of the game, along with a bit of sightseeing and partying, lots of eating and getting into the Christmas spirit.

What never ceases to amaze me is how much of Manhattan you can cover in the span of a day. It is also an extremely walkable city. My friend’s wireless fitbit® surprised me by telling us that on Day 2 we took over 28,000 steps, climbed more than 40 flights of stairs, walked over 12 miles and burned over 2,000 calories, and I wasn’t even tired. That’s the thing with New York; it’s a little like Las Vegas where you don’t realize how long you’ve been awake or how much you’ve been doing until you get home and you’re completely burnt out and you need another vacation from your vacation. New York City is like this magical place where the atmosphere completely makes you forget that you require sleep to survive. New York City right before Christmas is like that times a hundred.

My photos are grouped into galleries by day and I’m going to let them do most of the talking, but I thought I’d give a little synopsis as well.

Day 1:

Compared to last December in New York City as well as what we left behind in Edmonton, Alberta, we were extremely lucky when it came to the weather. Goodbye -30 degrees Celsius! Hello +14! It was so nice outside that, unlike the rest of the New Yorkers and tourists we encountered, we walked around in just our sweaters and still felt warm. I certainly wasn’t complaining. After we checked into our hotel, 6 Columbus, we started off our first afternoon with a Japanese meal at Natsumi, a quick jaunt to Times Square and then followed up with a Broadway musical called First Date. We loved the show – it was a little clichéd, but so true and very funny – and we left the theatre with newfound crushes on Zachary Levi (@ZacharyLevi) whom I already was a fan of from NBC’s Chuck and Disney’s Tangled. I’m a bit sad to share the news that the show closes on January 5, 2014, so I’m glad that I had the chance to see it while I was there. The night ended with a trip to Whole Foods (please open up a location in Edmonton!) for sustenance to keep us energized for the rest of the trip.

Day 2:

The day started with one of my favourite meals ever. Norma’s Lox & Lox of Bagel and their Waz-Za Waffle. I sort of feel like it’s the quintessential breakfast place and if I’m going to eat anywhere whenever I visit New York, Norma’s is definitely going to make the list. Ever since my cousin took me there, I haven’t skipped it once on any subsequent trips. That breakfast powered us through a visit to Statue of Liberty Island, a shopping excursion to Century 21, a walk through St. Paul’s Chapel and an introspective look around the 9/11 Memorial site. That evening, we had a delicious Greek meal at Ethos Gallery, strolled along Fifth Avenue looking at the holiday window displays and made our way back to our hotel and another stop at Whole Foods (seriously, this place would make so much money from us if they opened in Edmonton).

Day 3:

After a couple of late nights staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning for no reason whatsoever, we started the day a bit later and headed over to one of the better rated sushi restaurants according to Yelp and Urbanspoon. Aoki provided us with a comfortable atmosphere and an affordable and tasty lunch of miso soup, assorted rolls and über fresh salmon sashimi. We took an express train to Brooklyn and got a little lost (we shouldn’t have been on the express), but we eventually made it to the borough where we met a couple of friends for dinner at The Burger Bistro, completely stuffing our faces with burgers, fries and sangria. Then we ventured to Barclays Center for the first Knicks vs. Nets game of the NBA season. Apparently both teams are doing abysmally this year, but I would say that the Knicks are doing better based on this particular game. Since we missed out on the tree lighting festivities the night before at Rockefeller Center, we went back to Manhattan and took pictures in front of the rink and the giant tree. It was so beautiful! As it lightly snowed we hopped onto a carriage and Benny the horse towed us over to the bar, so we could ring in our friend’s 30th birthday at midnight.

Day 4:

We slept in a bit and upon waking we headed to Central Park where we found the fabulous Columbus Circle Holiday Market, which had been set up for the Christmas season by UrbanSpace. Locally made gift items, Christmas ornaments and festive snacks and drinks to warm up customers really helped to bring out the cheerfulness of the season despite the rainy day. After browsing around for a little while, we made our way to Greenwich Village for a pre-booked dessert tour. Unfortunately, the guide did not show up to meet us, but thankfully, we were just a few steps away from Joe’s Pizza (even after a half dozen trips to New York, this was my first time enjoying a famous Big Apple slice) and numerous other food establishments where we decided to create a tour of our own. If plans don’t pan out, you just have to make the best of it! Since we had some time to kill upon finishing our impromptu meal, we ventured back to Fifth Avenue where we came across the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Afterwards we enjoyed supper at a cozy Italian restaurant in the lower east side called Grotto. And, last, but not least, we, again, met up with our friend to officially ring in her 30th birthday at Tao Downtown and then Le Souk.

Day 5:

I have to say this day was a bit of a write-off. We were at Le Souk until 5am and I was wired from the night out dancing. I didn’t sleep until we got onto an 8:30am shuttle bus to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets just outside of Manhattan. Dead tired, but determined, my friend and I were real troopers and pretty much got our shopping done within the first few hours. Maybe if we had more energy and it wasn’t so bitterly cold in contrast to the first few days of our trip, we may have walked around a bit more. But, after days of late nights and next to no sleep for at least 24 hours, we just couldn’t do it any more. Once we made our way back to the city, we went to Aoki for dinner (becoming regulars) and then I bought myself a last minute ticket from the TKTS Discount Booth in Times Square to see Big Fish at the Neil Simon Theatre, which I am, again, sad to say has ended its run as of December 29th due to poor sales. The night I attended, it was a packed house, probably with those wanting to catch the well-reviewed show before the curtains officially closed, but it was too little, too late.

Day 6:

This was another slightly late day where we worked our way to Murray Hill for lunch at S’MAC. The portion sizes of our mac and cheese dishes were massive and I only finished about half of mine. A walk to burn off the heavy meal led us to Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building and back to Fifth Avenue where we shopped at Saks and Bloomingdale’s before having our final three-course meal in New York at David Burke at Bloomingdale’s (delicious by the way!). A stroll back to the Columbus Circle Holiday Market for one last look around before it closed for the night and a quick stop at our hotel to drop-off of all our stuff from the day and we were off to Barclays Center to finally see what we had booked the trip for in the first place – P!nk’s The Truth About Love Tour! Let me just say that I have seen many concerts over the years and this one just blew me away. P!nk is a topnotch performer who entertained us with her acrobatics, dancing, and incredible voice, which, to my knowledge, was live and not recorded. She was everything I hoped and, honestly, her show was a perfect cap to our holiday. I left thinking that if I could still get just a single ticket to her sold out, but postponed Edmonton show on January 16, it would be worth it to see her one more time.

I really hope you enjoyed my adventure and that it inspires you to visit New York soon. Whether you go on your own, with family or friends, you’ll be sure to have a great time.

I thought I would leave you with some extra information that would be useful for your travels to New York or wherever your next trip finds you.

General travel tips:

– Use deal vouchers – Groupon and LivingSocial can save you a lot of money on what would be otherwise extravagant meals or shows!

– Prepay for what you can (it’ll help take the sting out of it come bill time if it’s all spread out). Although make sure you can cancel and get a refund in case plans go awry.

– Make reservations for restaurants that you really want to try out – many restaurants, in the States especially, use Opentable and it’s a great way to ensure you get a table.

– If you don’t have a particular show in mind and you’re willing to take a chance, get last minute discounted tickets – in NYC go to the TKTS locations to see what Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are available the day of.

– Check Booking.com for hotel deals – many of the hotels offer free cancellation up until just a few days before you are supposed to arrive. They also don’t charge booking fees and most hotels don’t require that you pay ahead of time, so you can keep a watch out for better deals in the meantime.

Tips for NYC in December:

– Layer – you never know if the weather will take a turn!

– Mix and match pieces, so that it looks like you’re wearing something different everyday even though you only brought a few things.

– Winter items are heavier, thus taking up more space, so re-wear items, such as pants, throughout the trip, but bring enough, so you can alternate.

– Bring an umbrella, a hat and gloves. While we were there, it was balmly (to us anyway), wet and snowy within the span of 6 days.

Things to check out in NYC in December:

– Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree is a must see!

– Columbus Circle Holiday Market was lovely, especially if the weather is nice and you can take your time. Grand Central Terminal also had a market set up for Christmas and it’s indoors, so you can stay nice and warm.

– Fifth Avenue – Christmas displays at the department stores are quite exquisite. I didn’t even get inside Bergdorf Goodman, but the windows were beautiful!

Lastly, I wish I was going back to NYC in 2014. I want to see Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) kick serious ass in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, which is playing a limited engagement run from the end of March through to almost the end of July 2014. I’m so jealous of anyone who is planning to see that. If you’re going, take me with you.

If you liked my photos, please follow me on Instagram @crystalcarwin.

The Travelling Concertgoer: San Francisco Photostream

Walking from the BART station to see the Rolling Stones at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA on May 5, 2013

Walking from the BART station to see the Rolling Stones at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA on May 5, 2013

I’m not sure about you, but I haven’t met anyone in my life who has said they don’t enjoy music. Most find a genre they like and the majority are pretty passionate about music in some form or another. Whether they’re a musician or just a lover of the lyrics, beats and rhythms that make up the variety of songs out there in the universe, there is literally something for everyone.

I’m one of those passionate ones. I find artists I love all the time and I remain a devoted fan throughout the majority of an artist or band’s career. The genres of music I listen to run the gambit. Everything from top 40 to rap to folk to country can probably be found in my playlist, so I’m lucky that I live in a city that has become one of the major stops on many a concert tour. However, there are still some artists that don’t quite make it to my city, let alone my country because they either haven’t managed to crack the North American market to the point that it’s worth their time to tour here extensively or they’re such bloody legends that they know people will follow them instead. I’ve travelled to New York and Montreal to see Kylie Minogue, Toronto to see U2, London, England to see Girls Aloud and this coming December to New York once again to see P!nk. But, just earlier this month, I booked a whirlwind trip to San Francisco to see the Rolling Stones.

Prior to the Rolling Stones announcing their 50 and Counting tour, they were still one of the bands on my musical bucket list, if you will. I admit when I was younger I wasn’t much of a fan. I never really listened to them much and wasn’t necessarily inclined to, but after about a year of working full-time at my first “real” job after graduating from university, in an effort to create a regularly occurring social event for my friends and I, I decided to start a movie club. One month, in 2008, we chose to see Shine A Light, a documentary about the Rolling Stones that was directed by Martin Scorsese. I went in excited to see it because it was a documentary about one of the world’s biggest bands seen through the eyes of one of the best filmmakers and I wasn’t disappointed. That was the day I fell in love with their music and the characters that make up this long lasting group that, despite the pitfalls that rock and roll has brought to others, has stayed together with its original lineup for half a century.

Last year when the Rolling Stones announced their November/December shows in London and New York I thought my chance was finally here. The last time they had come to Edmonton, AB was back in 1997, so I wasn’t holding my breath that they’d grace my hometown with their presence, but maybe they’d come to Vancouver? Well, it was a long wait before they officially announced cities and dates for 2013 and while the west coast of Canada didn’t make the cut, San Francisco did.

I was more than determined to see them. With Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie between the ages of 65 and 71, this could very well be the last time they’ll perform on a tour like this and I couldn’t miss out. And, I wouldn’t call it fate exactly, but I do think it was by luck that I happened to come across the band’s $85 link on their website the morning the tickets for San Francisco went on sale. The catch with those tickets is that you could only purchase them in pairs and you wouldn’t know where your seats would be until you arrived at the venue and picked them up. That was perfectly fine with me! A chance to see the Rolling Stones at half the price of even their lowest priced tickets in the main sale meant I couldn’t go wrong.

The concert was superb. I loved seeing the crazy array of people at the venue. The audience was having such a great time, dancing like there was no tomorrow and Mick Jagger literally is more energetic at his age than I am right now. They played many of their hits, but with their extensive catalog, I missed hearing songs like Wild Horses or Ruby Tuesday. I can understand why people follow them around from city to city on their tours. They are notorious for changing up their sets every show, so they’re never exactly the same, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear your favourite song.

This is their set list from Oakland, CA on May 5:

  1. “Get Off Of My Cloud”
  2. “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)”
  3. “Live With Me”
  4. “Paint It Black”
  5. “Gimme Shelter”
  6. “Little Red Rooster” (with Tom Waits)
  7. “Dead Flowers”
  8. “Emotional Rescue”
  9. “All Down The Line”
  10. “Doom and Gloom”
  11. “One More Shot”
  12. “Honky Tonk Women”
  13. “Before They Make Me Run”
  14. “Happy”
  15. “Midnight Rambler” (with Mick Taylor)
  16. “Miss You”
  17. “Start Me Up”
  18. “Tumbling Dice”
  19. “Brown Sugar”
  20. “Sympathy for the Devil”

Encore

  1. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
  2. “Jumping Jack Flash”
  3. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

Even after a 2 and a half hour show, I still wished it was longer. But, alas, I can now say that I have seen the Rolling Stones live. The experience was certainly worth the trip, and though they’re the reason why I booked a vacation to San Francisco, I do try to make the most of my time in the cities I visit.

Over my three days in the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, I visited the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and perused the stalls at the weekly farmer’s market, walked the streets of Chinatown, shopped around Union Square, ate at Tadish in the Financial District (apparently the oldest seafood restaurant in San Francisco) and at Bask SF (only a year old), walked up Lombard Street, followed Columbus Avenue from California Street past North Beach and all the way down to Hyde Street Pier and then down to Pier 39 to see the seals. I regret the shoes I brought with me because I thought those flats would kill me by the end of the trip, but I made it and it was fantastic.

Another trip and plenty to document it! As my friend said, she knew I must have just returned home and finally gotten Wi-Fi because I started Instagraming one photo after another to share with everyone. She also asked me how long I was there for, and when I replied that I was only there for three days, she was pretty amazed at how much I managed to do in such a short time span.

San Francisco through my eyes is here for you to view. Hopefully it inspires you to visit, too. Maybe for a show, maybe not. Either way, it’s worth seeing and with many things within walking distance of one another, you can cover a lot more ground than you think.

How to Make Sure Your Friend Has the Best time on Their First Trip to NYC

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Times Square billboards

Why, crowdsource some ideas from the writers and readers of the blogosphere, of course!

New York City is one of my absolute favourite places to visit. The first time I went there was as a child on a bus tour with my parents. Since then I’ve been four more times – all have been memorable, but the best might just have been the week I spent there after freshman year of university with my friend Ashley. I’d never been on a trip without my family prior to that and the two of us had an absolute blast. We walked 60 blocks a day weaving our way all over the city and we never ran out of things to do. That’s the best thing about NYC. It literally never sleeps and there’s always something going on.

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Midtown Manhattan at 5:00am in the morning. Fog is still lifting!

This coming winter will mark my sixth venture to New York and this time around I’ll be joined by one of my girlfriends. It’s going to make it a half dozen visits for me, but a first for my friend Kendra. I want her to love it as much as I do, which really isn’t difficult.

We already have quite the ‘To Do’ list:

1) See P!nk in concert (this spurred the whole trip when we couldn’t get tickets to her show at home)

2) Go to an NBA game

3) Pretty much all the tourist attractions (Statue of Liberty – hopefully the statue is reopened by then, Empire State Building, Times Square, etc.)

4) See a Broadway (or Off-Broadway) show – we’re not picky

5) Play Accomplice (NYC mystery play/scavenger hunt)

5) Eat!!

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A visit to Norma’s for the Waz-za Waffle is a must in my book!

6) Shop – outlets here we come! SoHo, too!

7) See the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center – Dec. 4th!

8) Museums – I can literally spend a full day at MoMA

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Does the naked cowboy still come out in winter?

So what am I hoping to learn from my fellow bloggers and readers? I’m sure many of you either live in NYC or have visited before. Everyone has a different and unique experience of the cities they go to.

What are your favourite memories of NYC? What’s something that someone who’s been there several times and someone who’s never been will both love? Anything that you think is overhyped and not worth the money to see? Neighbourhoods that are a must to go to? Restaurants that will satisfy our foodie palates without costing an arm and a leg?

One of the downfalls of the city is that, yes, you can do a ton in just a weekend, but, no, you won’t manage everything. No matter how hard you try you will need to make a trip back in the future and that’s A-OK.

Your suggestions are appreciated and we will make every effort to do as many of them as possible.

As always, thanks!