101 General Update

101header

I have been doing really well and completing items for my 101 Things in 1001 Days project, but I’ve been horrible at keeping the list updated here on my blog.  I’ve been too preoccupied with all this personal finance and trying to find a new job stuff!  As some of you may have noticed, I’ve changed my blog header in an attempt to bring myself back to the list at least a little.

I can think of at least 5 goals that I’ve completed (all over a year already – whoops!) and another 12 progress updates that need to be made.  So I’m going to start rolling those out a little more regularly.  I only have 13 months left 🙂

I’ve also been trying to find more people that are participating in this project to help keep my motivated. I find that the PF Bloggers I follow have been a huge help to me, and hope that fellow 101-projecters could do the same.  At the moment, my friend Cara is the only one!  Or maybe this could be my extremely passive way of convincing you (yes, you – the person reading this) to join too?

NYC Mega-Post

Last summer when I returned from my very first trip over-seas (to London, England), I realized that the travel-bug had bitten, and immediately began thinking about my next trip – New York City.  Why New York? I’m not sure, but I’m assuming it had something to do with Broadway, and the relatively close proximity of another of the “world’s best cities”.

#13 – GO TO NEW YORK CITY

On June 2nd, I arrived in the Big Apple (after a short commute from the Newark airport in New Jersey).  I went with my older sister for a week, and we managed to do most of the big touristy things (and a few less-touristy places recommended by others) and took in a bunch of shows while we were there.

Manhattan is much, much smaller than it appears on TV and in the movies, and you literally do walk everywhere.  Even if you take the subway, you still gotta walk – something I am no longer really used to since becoming a lazy-ass who drives everywhere.  My legs and feet hurt a lot, but my sister (who lives in Toronto) seemed completely unfazed by all the walking.  I wish I hadn’t been such a slacker at the gym leading up to the trip, because it would have been nice to spend more time in the museums of Central Park.

We stayed at The Pod hotel because it was “cheap”, the location was fantastic, and the reviews were really good.  The room was pretty much what I expected, but I was disappointed about the culture of the place.  Online it comes across as having a much more hostel-feel, and I was looking forward to mingling with other young travelers from around the world; in reality, it was pretty much all old people or families. We saw the maids more often than anyone (mostly because we had to wait for them to finish cleaning the bathrooms every morning before we could use it – annoying).  I was hoping that I could use this to cross another item off my list (#15 – Stay in a Hostel), but nope.  Not a hostel.  (But still a great place to stay.) Maybe it has a different dynamic on the weekends on later in the summer?

We purchased a NYC Pass – basically a card that you pay for that gives you ‘free’ admission into a bunch of touristy places.  I was a little leery on the idea at first, but they were having a sale and I found a promo code that saved us even more money, so we went for the 7-day pass.  It was definitely worth it! Most of the places we planned on going were included anyways, and it was super convenient to just show the card at places rather than to carry around cash or use our credit cards each time.  Plus, it saved us money – we paid $175 CAN each for the passes, and doing some quick math we would have spent about $290 CAN had we not had the card (would have been even more had we been more ‘touristy’).

So what did we do while we were there?

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
#3 Rockerfeller Center/NBC Studios

The Rockerfeller Center was only about a 20 minute from our hotel, so we ended up in this area a lot. We took a tour of NBC studios which was pretty neat; it would have been much cooler had they actually been ‘in season’ filming shows and had celebrities wandering around and such.  (The SNL set, for example, was being used to store a whole lot of boxes, and had computers set up for the Olympics coverage. Not exactly glitzy.)  My sister bought a “Community” t-shirt and I got a “Bayside Tigers” (from Saved by the Bell) hoodie from the NBC store which would have made 10 year old me so very proud.  We went to The Top of the Rock (no line!) and got some amazing roof-top views of the city (which also, incidentally, made going to the Empire State Building a little redundant).

      

But we did go to the Empire State building too – I have mixed feelings on it.  The line getting in was initially quite small – we skipped several entire waiting ROOMS, but then got side-tracked by the New York Skyride (a sort of I-Max movie tour of the city from the sky, obviously).  It was bad.  Really bad.  And when we got out the line to get up to the observation deck had increased and it was grossly crowded when we finally got up there.  I think it was so busy because it was dusk and well, the pictures look great at dusk, see:

  

The Statue of Liberty was closed for renovations, so we didn’t bother going to Ellis Island at all.  Instead, we took a night boat cruise of the harbor, which took us out near the statue.  (Not surprisingly, she was also pretty small.) The views of the city at night from the water were beautiful, but it was hard to take good pictures with our little digital cameras in the dark.  Still very cool though.  The whole Pier (Pier 17 to be specific) had such character, with some street performers, shops, and ships.  I’d hang out there a lot if I lived in NYC.

  

We were in Times Square several times – it was in the area/on the way back to the hotel from the Broadway District.  At certain times it was really busy, but we managed to avoid the crowds for the most part.  We went into some of the big stores in the area, like the Disney Store, the Hershey store, the M&M store, and lots of the NYC souvenir shops.  During the day there were people dressed up like characters from Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse, and Toy Story.  At night there was this really cool street artist who used spray paint (click to see a video I found).  I almost bought a painting off him, but ended up with something I like better (which is towards the end of this post).

   

 

Piece of advice (that we were given, but didn’t listen to): DO NOT EAT IN TIMES SQUARE.   We did one night at TGIFridays (since we don’t have those in Canada); it was late, we were hungry and we didn’t have many options so we went.  Horrible service.  Jacked up prices.  Unimpressive food.  We left the waiter 3 cent tip only because we didn’t have the proper change.  Yes, it was that bad.

Progress: #18 – Try 10 new restaurants
#3 Southern Comfort BBQ
#4 – Uncle Mario’s Pizzeria
#5 – Gray’s Papaya

But we did have some really good food while we were there.  Neither of us are really foodies, so we mostly picked restaurants at random as we were hungry.  “Restaurant Row” was a good idea – both places we went there were worthy of blogging about, and using for #18 – Try 10 new restaurants.  One place was Southern Hospitality BBQ – their pulled-pork and pulled-bbq-chicken sandwiches were incredible!  The other was Uncle Mario’s Pizzeria, where we got pizza (duh) and our server kept calling us “Bella” (but in a charming way, not a Twilight-way).  We also tried their white sangria which was ok, but didn’t really go well with said pizza.  We also had yummy (and inexpensive) hot dogs and papaya juice from Gray’s Papaya which has appeared in a bunch of movies apparently, and is also worthy of my list.  Sadly we did not have any NY cheesecake while we were there, and went to Donut Planet (a Bro-In-Law recommendation) too late in the day to get to try the peanut-butter-and-jelly doughnuts (but still tried a chocolate and a vanilla one).  Also worth mentioning was the bar Wicked Willy’s near NYU campus that we ducked in for drinks to avoid the rain.  They had beer pong tables in the bar!!

Southern Hospitality

We didn’t do much shopping or browsing either.  We went by the alleged ‘best-kept-shopping-secret’ in NYC, (which was packed!) Century 21 department store.   It boasts discount designer clothes, but most of the store was just like any other department store, and the “discounted” designer clothes were still ridiculously priced.  We waited in line for the washroom longer then we actually did any shopping there.  We went into some boutiques, checked out TheMarketNYC and Chelsea Market, and wandered down Fifth Avenue, stopping to peek into Tiffany and Co’s window displays, but didn’t/couldn’t afford to buy anything.

We did two walking tours, which were included in our NYC Pass.   The Greenwich Walking Tour was alright – it just felt long, and like they were trying to cram too much in.  There’s a lot of interesting history in the area, and I wish they had split it up into two different tours – one focusing on the artists/musicians of the area, the other on the history and architecture.  We hung out in Washington Square Park for a bit afterwards, which would have been awesome to stay longer, but it stated to pour.  It also rained during our walking tour of Wall Street, but the tour itself was much better (perhaps just more focused?).   I don’t know a whole lot about the Financial District so it was nice to have a guide there to explain things.  And of course, we took a petty cab tour of Central Park.  This was a bit of a hassle because I had been given the wrong/bad advice.  If you are looking for a petty-cab, they are NOT scattered everywhere throughout the park.  They are all in the south-end.  And we were not able to negotiate the price at all, either.  We ended up back-tracking and booking a petty-cab through a company, using our NYC Pass for a discount (it still cost $75 for an hour ride).  Our driver was pretty fun though, despite blatantly hitting on my sister.  If/when I go back to NYC, I’ll spend more time in the park then we did.

 Blocked off because of Occupy Wallstreet Where "Occupy WallStreet" took place


We were on the fence about going to World Trade Center Memorial site, but I’m glad we went.  You had to make (free) reservations online, and it seemed like it was going to be an ordeal getting in passed security and whatnot, but it was pretty quick and easy.  (Many places had security similar to that at the airport to get into, including the Empire State building and Top of the Rock.) I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what I believe actually happened back on September 11th, 2001, but regardless, those building came down, and people died.  The site is still being built, so most of it was not opened to the public yet, but it was neat to see the “two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, each about an acre in size, set within the footprints of the original twin towers” and the Survivor Tree.

 
 

Grand Central Terminal (not station) was pretty awesome too.  Included in our pass was an audio tour of the terminal which my sister says was her favourite part (it would have cost a whopping $7 otherwise).  We learned that inside the information booth, under the famous clock, is a spiral stair-case for the employees to get in and out of the booth.  But the coolest was the Whispering Gallery – “The low ceramic arches, built for the 1913 opening of Grand Central, are designed in such a perfect way that if two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper into a corner, they should be able to hear each other as if they were face to face – not far across the way.”

 

Progress: #39 – Visit 10 museums
#1 The MET
#2 The Guggenheim
#3 The MoMa

I was really looking forward to getting to the museums, but was much less thrilled when we actually got there.  I don’t know if I was just tired from the trip, or if I’ve become museumed-out.  We did make it the MET (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  We didn’t spend much time at all inside the MET.  I think we spent more time outside of it looking at the paintings of a street artists (eventually, we each bought a painting from him).  Half of the Guggenheim was closed for a new exhibit installation, so we made it through their pretty quick (but I LOVED the building design).  The MoMA was awesome, but I got a pretty bad headache while in there.  I did manage to see the famous works:  The Starry Night by van Gogh, Water Lilies by Monet, The Persistence of Memory by Dali, several Picasso’s, and several Warhol’s.  Guess I’ll have to go back here next time.

 

One morning we ventured away from Manhattan and headed to Brooklyn on the suggestion of the Bro-In-Law. It was our last full-day there, and I was pretty tired (i.e. grumpy) by this point, and it was much hotter outside then the weather-man said it would be, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably would have otherwise.  My younger sister strongly suggested a trip to the Superhero Supply Store, stressing that I would love the classroom they had in the back – but I unfortunately didn’t get to see the back secret room.  We hit the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Target (haha), and the Brooklyn Bridge Park for ice cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (which was kind of gross) before walking back into Manhattan via the bridge.  It was a tad bit crowded, but only took about half hour to cross.

 

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
#4 Phantom of the Opera (Broadway)

And now the Broadways.  We really wanted to see THE LION KING, but the tickets were just too expensive, and we couldn’t find any deals.  Instead, we ‘settled’ for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  My sister had seen it before – 20 years ago when she was in a grade school – and our mom made us listen to a recording of the show on tape back on a family vacation we took as kids.  I was a little disappointed by the special effects used for the crashing chandelier, but otherwise it was incredible.  Naturally, we ended up sitting next to the douchiest people in the theatre, who really ruined the beginning – the lady was late, the guy was texting her on his phone and had a million shopping bags with him, and when she arrived he used the phone as a flashlight for her, and then she actually pulled out a flashlight to read the program, and started humming along to one of the quieter songs – GRRR!

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
#5 Harvey

Anywho, we also went to see HARVEY, as I mentioned in my last blog.  We went on a Tuesday night so that we could attend a pre-show talk with their Education Coordinator.  After the talk, I went over to introduce myself (look at me networking!) and chat about their education program vs. ours before the show started.  The script they used was slightly different than the one we used, and their interpretation of certain scenes were quite different/better.   I knew that Jim Parsons (Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory) was in it, but was surprised to see Harry Crane from Mad Men (Rich Sommer) in the cast too.  My biggest (only) critique of the performance was the character Veta (played by Tony-award nominee Jessica Hecht – better known as Susan on Friends, Ross’s ex-wife’s partner).  I found her to be too over-the-top from the top of the play, so her character had nowhere to go as the story progressed.  Not sure if that falls on her or the director though…

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
#6 Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana

At Radio City Music Hall, we saw the first public performance of Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana – well, for this tour.  (They performed this show there last year on another seasonal tour.)  I’ve seen two other Cirque shows before, but this was the first time where I’ve seen the performers falter.  It was scary but exciting – especially because the act was The Wheel of Death (click for video) – but the performer managed to carry on without falling or interrupting the show.   There was also this really cool act where this girl, the Oracle, did sand paintings in which she “summarizes the events of the first half of the show in pictures and gives a brief preview of the story that is about to unfold next”.  It was kinda neat to find out that because Radio City Music Hall is a national landmark, all the sets and equipment had to be self-supporting because the building cannot be altered in any way. (Also, upon looking this stuff up for this blog, I discovered that there was an entire act scrapped from the performance we saw, as we suspected.  We’re guessing it was a technical issue.)

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
#7 Upright Citizen Brigade Comedy Show

And lastly, we went to the Upright Citizen Brigade and saw an improv show put on by Scott Adsit and John Lutz of 30 Rock (Pete and Lutz).  It was really funny and without a doubt worth waiting in line for half hour and the $5 cover charge.  As I teach improv, it was awesome to see professionals in action.  Their mission (“The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is dedicated to fostering both an appreciation and education of the arts through affordable and high quality comedic performances and classes.”) is pretty much what I want my life to be.  Plus, this place has a crazy amount of famous, talented alumni including Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Seth Meyers (SNL),  Zack Galifianakis (The Hangover), Donald Glover (Community) and Jason Sudeikis (SNL) to name a very few.  I wondering if they’re hiring?

Progress: #41 – Attend/participate in 25 cultural events
# 8 Street Artists in NYC

As a bonus for my list, I’m going to consider all the street performers that we saw in NYC as another cultural event.  Honestly, they were my favourite part of the trip.  There wasn’t any one in particular that stood out as amazing, but the whole concept of street performers just inspires something inside of me.  As mentioned above, there was the spray-paint guy in Times Square. At Pier 17 there was a guy that tight-rope walked on rolled up toilet paper. (His trick was pretty cool, but he needed to work on his showmanship in my opinion.)  In Washington Square Park, we briefly heard a small band playing with an upright bass before the rain, but returned to see people pushing a grand piano across the space, and to watch this man make and teach little kids how to make these giant bubbles.  In the Subway, we saw this group of hip-hop dancers (“Don’t worry, we’re just black guys. We left our weapons at home!”).  And then there were tons of street vendors including a street fair on our first day there.  A lot of it was tourist crap for sale but there were actual artists intermittently included as well.  As mentioned, there was one artist outside of the Met that really caught my eye.  I had a hard time narrowing it down but ultimately picked one that now needs to be framed and hung on my wall.  I should have bought more.


Not going to lie, it was a pretty expensive trip – even with the 50% off flights, the cheap-by-NYC-standards accommodations, the NYC Pass, and using every promo code we could find.  (I’m sure we could have done it even cheaper if we really wanted to, but if I’m going to see Broadway shows, I want to be able to actually SEE the shows.)  Regardless, I would love to go back again one day and spend more time away from the tourist-traps and really explore what the city has to offer. I imagine I’ll be back within 5 years.

Oh, and incidentally, I also accomplished this while in New York: Progress:#46 – Go one week without Facebook three times

Goal #33. Sing Karaoke

Perhaps this is a bit of a cheat, using one event for more then one goal, but I’m going to do it anyways.

Back at my sister’s wedding, they had a karaoke machine and guests had to sing love songs to get them to kiss. I wrote the following in the post about their wedding.

“[…] I was coerced into singing the Spice Girls “Wannabe” with Andrea (another inside joke), joined the rest of the wedding party in an epic rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” (complete with air-guitar back-ups) and apparently stole the mic from another bridesmaid (so she could dance with her man) for Lonestar’s “Amazed” (do I even know that song?).”

karaoke

Goal #42. Book #4 – Anthem

42. Read 30 Books #4

4. Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand, written in 1937 and first published in 1938 in England. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the use of word “Ego” is punishable by death).”

It’s a novella, so it was super-quick to read.  I’ve read “Atlas Shrugged” by Rand as well, so I was surprised that this was so short.  I really liked this story though.  Not surprising as I’ve spent the last year reading things like this (like 1984 and Brave New World to name two).  If you like those books, you’ll like this one too.  I wish I had something clever or insightful to add, but I’ll let the novella speak for itself.

Goal #42. Book #3 – P&P&Z: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

42. Read 30 Books #3

3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010) is a parody novel by Steve Hockensmith. It is a prequel to Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, focusing on “the early life and training of Elizabeth Bennet, heroine of the earlier Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as she strove to become a gifted zombie hunter, with some mishaps in her early romantic encounters also included.” It was first published by Quirk Books on March 23, 2010.”

This book was a relatively quick-read, and quite entertaining.  The writing style is (obviously) different then Pride & Prejudice, and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and it weird to hear Elizabeth Bennet’s voice so differently at first.  Partially because there was a tad more sexual innuendo in this book too.  Go read it.

Goal #42. Book #2 – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

42. Read 30 Books #2

2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith – Sept 9, 2011
Although I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of this book, here’s a little blurb as to what it’s about:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a 2009 parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. It is a mashup combining Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice with elements of modern zombie fiction, crediting Austen as co-author. Grahame-Smith began with the original text of Austen’s novel, adding zombie and ninja elements while developing an overall plot line for the new material.  According to the author, the original text of the novel was well-suited for use as a zombie horror story:You have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there . . . It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence. From my perspective anyway.’ ”

My thoughts??  READ THIS BOOK.  It’s so fricken hilarious!

Goal #42. Book # 1 – Lives of the Circus Animals

42. Read 30 Books

1. Lives of the Circus Animals by Christopher Bram – July 10, 2011
Lives of the Circus Animals is a brilliant (2003) comedy about New York theater people: actors, writers, personal assistants, and a drama critic for the New York Times. They are male, female, straight, gay, in love with their work or in love with each other, and one of them, British star Henry Lewse, “the Hamlet of his generation,” is famous. Award-winning novelist Christopher Bram gives us ten days and nights in this small-town world in the heart of a big city, an engaging novel that is also a satiric celebration of the quest for sanity in the face of those two impostors, success and failure.

Personally, I thought this book was ok.  It was a simple, shorter read that resonated well with me, being in the theatre biz, and wanting to go to New York City.  There was more sexual content then I had expected, but nothing too intense, and a small twist towards the end that I felt was the books saving grace.  I bought it on clearance, and it was worth the $4 I spent.