Saturday, June 25, 2011

Manhattan skyline | Gantry Plaza State Park

Panoramic skyline of Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City

As a New Yorker, I have just discovered Gantry Plaza State Park only recently and I can't believe this beautiful park is just right in my own "backyard".   I have seen some panoramic pictures of Manhattan skyline and learned that they were taken from this park. This is a relatively new park having opened in 1998. It is actually located on the East River waterfront of the Long Island City community in the Queens borough of New York City. The Gantry state park has been developed in phases and the current size is now at 10 acres. This Long Island City park is projected to be 40 acres upon completion.

Gantry Plaza State Park. Check out the hammocks !

Skyline of Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City

On Father's Day, we drove out to Long Island City and were fortunate to find parking on the street close to the park. The park was clean with plenty of sitting areas along the waterfront and to top it off, there were several hammocks near the granite-paved plaza area. We managed to get hold of one orange hammock and took advantage of it to sun ourselves for a little while. We soon relinquished it to some kids who were eagerly eyeing it and took a walk along the waterfront promenade. The midtown Manhattan skyline was as spectacular as I expected on that sunny afternoon. We noted the Empire State building, the United Nations headquarters and the Chrysler building.  There were plenty of grassy meadow spaces for picnics and sun tanning.  A new children playground has been installed. Here we could easily see the landmark Pepsi Cola sign. The promenade section under the Pepsi sign was closed for further construction. There were several piers too with wooden lounging chairs. The gantry structures used in the past to load and unload barges onto the river were still standing. The park wasn't crowded at all when we visited.

Pepsi Cola sign in Gantry state park. New Long Island City condos are being constructed.

Long Island City piers in the Gantry state park

There are several high rises apartments around with new ones being constructed. There is the Riverview restaurant, close by with outside seatings to take advantage of the Manhattan skyline view. On Father's day, this restaurant was packed with people having brunches.

We saw some signs pointing to the East River ferry terminal. We decided to check it out. We followed the signs for about five blocks, passing some industrial buildings and also the Waterfront Crab House restaurant where we had just dined earlier in the year.  There were further signs of gentrification in the area where we saw that a new middle school has just broken ground on the waterfront side. This school is probably going to end up having some amazing Manhattan skyline views.

We reached the terminal parking lot where the parking fee is $5 for the day. We walked through the parking lot to the terminal. The ferry service is to Manhattan and Brooklyn. This was during the promotion period where the ride on the ferry was free. We waited hoping to take the ferry to midtown Manhattan but the wait was rather long. When the ferry arrived, only a few passengers were able to board. Perhaps the ferry would be back to the normal schedule when the promotion period is over.

Ferry to Manhattan and Brooklyn from Long Island City

Too bad that this year Macy's July 4th fireworks display will be on the Hudson River side. Gantry Plaza State Park would have been the perfect spot to view the fireworks over the East River.  In the past, I was only able to admire the Manhattan skyline while in transit on the Queensboro 59th Street Bridge (immortalized in Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Song).  I've really enjoyed this park and hope to revisit again during the twilight hours to capture the dazzling skyline of Manhattan.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Panda Bears | San Diego zoo

Panda bear at San Diego zoo

My daughter received a stuffed panda bear toy as a gift from the San Diego zoo when she was young. It is her favorite toy and she brought it with her whenever she has sleepover at her cousins' houses or when we traveled. The panda bear was tagged "Bai Yun" after the actual name of the panda bear in the San Diego zoo.

Visiting the panda bears was our top agenda during our first visit to the world famous San Diego zoo. As you approached the viewing area, there are signs advising you to keep a quiet profile to avoid disturbing the bears. This is probably one of the most popular attractions in the zoo as noted by the presence of the long queues.

Panda bear taking a nap at San Diego zoo

We saw that one of the panda bears has ensconced itself comfortably in the shady branches of the tree for the afternoon nap. The tree branches were apparently strong enough to hold the massive weight of the slumbering bear. Another one was busy lunching on the bamboo shoots which grow abundantly in their enclosure. All in all, these are not frisky animals running around. They seemed rather passive, slumbering under the San Diego sun or chewing hungrily on the bamboo shoots.

Panda bear at San Diego zoo

These endangered pandas have definitely endeared themselves to the visitors. Now, is anyone ready for a Kung Fu Panda  animated movie? I have not seen the sequel Kung Fu Panda II yet but I've heard it has received good reviews.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mexican Riviera cruise

Land's End Arch, Cabo San Lucas

Early this year, several major cruise lines have announced that they were dropping the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan from their Mexican Riviera cruise itinerary. This was to address security issues that have occured in the city where violence has escalated and tourists were mugged and robbed near the piers.

Our family once visited Mazatlan as one of the ports of call on a Mexican Riviera cruise. When I read about the suspension of cruises into this port, my first thoughts were the impact of the drop of tourism on this city. Although I was in Mazatlan for only a few hours and has only gleamed some of its sites, I've enjoyed my visit. From my experience, some shopping prices were more competitive. For instance, on a earlier cruise stop in the cobblestoned streets of  Puerto Vallarta, I came upon a sterling silver blue opal ring at a local jewelry store. I tried to bargain down the price but the shop owner did not budge. In Mazatlan in a shopping arcade by the shore, I came upon a jewelry store which had a similiar ring. Perhaps it was designed and crafted by the same manufacturer. I love the ring for its brilliant blue opal color and its unique design. So I tried on my bargaining powers and to my delight, the shop owner was willing to lower the price. Since the purchase, I've worn it several times and have received compliments on it.

Cabo San Lucas marina

Now, it looks like that Mazatlan has been dropped from cruise itineraries for the season. In its place, some cruise lines have added an extra day in other ports such as Cabo San Lucas. Cabo is a much larger port than Mazatlan and more popular with tourists. In Cabo, one of its famous sights is the Land's End Arch, a natural rock formation that has one leg perched on the tip of the Baja California penisula and its other leg almost perched into the ocean. It is here where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. The Sea of Cortez is abundant with sea life and Cabo is a mecca for fishing enthusiasts. (An acquaintance once caught an award worthy fish there). At Cabo, we took a glass bottom boat to sail towards the arch to have a closer look and took some beautiful pictures. The azure waters looked calm from ashore but it was rather choppy upon our approach. There was a beach near the arch formation. Day trippers usually take a boat out there and arrange for the boat to pick them up later. We were fortunate that we got on the boat upon arrival in Cabo. Soon after we returned ashore, there was a heavy down pour. My mind wondered to those beachers who were near the arch. Did they find shelter among those rocks ? The downpour was on for almost an hour.

Exquisite food creations

On the ship, I spent time in the whirlpool and read on the deck. As expected, the foods were sumptuous. I normally eat a small breakfast. However, caution has been thrown to the wind regarding such dietary concerns during cruising. On this trip, I had the chance to check out the behind the scenes of one part of the ship operation. It was a visit to the ship galley to find out how the foods were prepared and cooked for the thousands of passengers. One of the highlight of the cruise was the Midnight Buffet whereby beautiful arrays of sumptuous cuisines were laid out attesting to the creativity of the chefs who put together the colorful and delightful eye candies. The guests exclaimed in oohs and aahs at the exquisite displays, took a lot of pictures before proceeding to partake of the offerings.

Entertainment options abound on the ship. There were karaoke bars which we visited but we were too shy to participate. We saw the usual dance and singing shows. Such leisure activities were coupled with mundane activities such as doing laundry on the ship. I knew this could wait till we got home but I preferred to have this done whenever possible. I found that this facilitated my packing.

We were also cruising through several time zones on this trip. Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan are both one hour ahead of Long Beach, California where we first embarked on the ship. Puerto Vallarta is two hours ahead of Long Beach. When we disembarked from the ship onto these foreign destinations, we have to be mindful of our clocks and made sure we headed back to the ship on time when we were venturing on our own. We definitely didn't want to miss the boat ! That's why sometimes trip insurance is a necessity.

After cruising for 7 days through the sunny Mexican Riviera, it was time to disembark at Long Beach, California. Relaxed and tanned with slightly wider girths, we trodded down the gangway ready to reclaim our daily doldrums.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Original Winnie The Pooh

Winnie The Pooh and friends at the New York Public Library

Winnie the Pooh Bear is one of our favorite toy characters in our home. I love Winnie and so does my daughter. We often have Winnie themed bed linen, clothes and wall decorations when she was a toddler. When we ventured to Disney World in Orlando, we often tried to get pictures taken with Winnie the Pooh.

The stories of Winnie The Pooh and and the Disney movie character were based on an actual toy bear given to Christopher Robin, the son of English author, Alexander Alan Milne (A.A. Milne). The bear was purchased in the early 1920's from Harrods, the London department store and given to Christopher Robin on his first birthday.  The bear first appeared as "Teddy Bear" in A.A. Milne's book of  poem "When We Were Very Young".

The success of  "When We Were Very Young" lead to the bear being featured in the eponymous book,  "Winnie-The-Pooh". The other toys of Christoper Robin were also presented in the book. These toy characters formed the basis of  the delightful collection of children stories known as Pooh Library.

In 1947, the toy bear and the other stuffed toys were brought  over to U.S. to help the publishers promote A.A.Milne's latest publications. For years, the publishers were the caretakers of these toys until 1987 when they were donated to the New York Public Library. They are now housed in their permanent home in the Children's Library section.

It was with great anticipation that my daughter and I visited the Children's Library recently to check out Winnie the Pooh.  Right behind the checkout desk, the iconic toys have been placed in a glass case in an open room walled with Hundred Acre Wood themed murals.  In addition to the original Winnie The Pooh, we also saw the original Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet and Lottie the otter. Baby kangaroo Roo has been missing in action for a long time.

Kanga, Lottie the Otter, Tigger, Winnie, Piglet and Eeyore. 

Pooh is a brown nondescript looking toy unlike the Disney version. He reminded me very much of my childhood toy bear. The fact that Pooh has become such a well-beloved icon behold the timeless classic and beauty of A.A. Milne's heart tugging stories about simpler and more innocent days.

Winnie The Pooh And Hundred Acre Wood Mural

For the short while we were there, the iconic toys received a constant stream of visitors (mostly adults) proving how popular and beloved they are across the passage of time. Perhaps Pooh and friends rekindle a spark of the inner child within some of us that day.

New York Public Library On 42nd Street and 5th Avenue

New York Public Library entrance lobby

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bryant Park New York

Bryant Park

About twenty plus years ago, I worked in a building that is across from the Bryant Park in midtown NewYork city. Although the New York Public Library fronts its Fifth Avenue boundary, the park then was not considered a peaceful escape from the concrete jungle of New York city. Not once did I ever step inside the park. I was told then that there were lots of unscrupulous and illicit business undertakings in the park. Every, morning when I got off the subway station, I glanced briefly in the direction of the park, noting its forestations emanating an air of menacing undertone. I then went about my own business.

Carousel in Bryant Park

Fast forward to today and this park has metamorphized into a celebrated green oasis in midtown New York city. Thanks to the restoration project initiated in the late 80's, the park now features a finely landscaped lawn filled with sun lovers during the warm months. Here, visitors could kick off  their shoes and lie on the grass, settle in to have a picnic, engross onself in a good book or enjoy music programs occasionally held here. The signature Bryant Park fountain spraying refreshing cool mists together with the colorful carousel lend a touch of French charm to the surrounding gardens. There is also the Reading Room program in the park whereby visitors could peruse books and periodicals. Tables and chairs abound providing chess players the platforms to show off their skills. Since the restoration,  I have left my footprints in the park many times.

During the summer at lunch hour, you could get a taste of Broadway in Bryant Park whereby a couple of songs from a Broadway show is performed weekly to packed crowds. As the winter approaches, the big lawn is eventually  replaced by The Pond at Bryant Park, New York's only free ice skating rink. You could bring your own skates or rent there. The festive picturesque atmosphere is enhanced by the sprouting of holiday gift shops in the park.

To top it off, the park provides some of the cleanest public restrooms in NYC. I have often bypassed them not knowing much about their conditions. I had the oppportunity to utilize them recently. First, I was bowled over by the huge gorgeous bouquet of flowers at the entrance. The restrooms were clean and there was even classical music piped in.

I hope this year's  Broadway in Bryant Park show agenda is as strong as the previous year selections. I can't wait for it to start in July. I hope to catch at least one show this season especially if they are showcasing the Broadway Wicked musical.

Chrysler Building as seen on the 42nd Street side of Bryant Park


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