2# Throwback Travel- New York: Big Bus from Midtown to Brooklyn (day 2)

On day two in New York, we did the most touristy thing you can do, the Big Bus tours. I usually prefer walking tours, but when you have a baby and the weather is a bit drizzly this was easier. We got to see so much more than we would have on foot since the city is just so massive. The Big Bus tours are only offered for 1-3 days. Of course, we wanted to save money so we went tried to do four bus tours and a cruise two day. We still did shopping, dining and sightseeing on foot on the same days, so its definitely doable. Today we did the Downtown, Brooklyn and Night tour loops. We also visited the Financial District, Battery Park and 9/11 Memorial.

Since we had a big day ahead of us we need a big breakfast. My hotel did have complimentary breakfast, but I preferred not to dine there since the food was very processed. The healthiest option they had was Quaker Oats, but I was aware there was a class action against them. I preferred to explore some healthier breakfast options near my hotel. I found Le Pain Quotidien (Bryant Park location). They offer pastries, artisan breads, jams, eggs, steel-cut oats and more healthy breakfast options. Their bread is made traditionally with organic stone-ground flour and most of the other breakfast menu options are also organic. They have a large selection of organic jams and other condiments that are also free to use. Octavia and I had boiled eggs with a selection of breads and jams and soy cappuccino. The staff were so lovely and brought Octavia some extra bread to chew on.

Downtown Loop Bus tour

We began with the Downtown Loop, which we did in two parts that day. We took it from the 5th Avenue Midtown (3), all the way to City Hall Park (10), which covered Midtown to Lower Manhattan. The bus goes right through the middle of the island, so we saw districts of Nomad and Greenwich Village, Spring and Canal shopping strips and all the important law buildings in the Lower Manhattan. From the second level of the bus, I was able to get better views and photos of buildings. I listened to all the commentary from the guide with the earphones. The guy on this part of our tour was pretty entertaining and one of my favourite guides.

We got off the bus at City Hall Park, where we saw our first squirrel. It was so cute and much tiny than I imagined. We also saw Black Lives Matters activists, but it was pretty quiet at that time of the morning. We did some retail therapy at Century 21, which had great deals on designer apparel. I found some great bargains for O and myself in our short visit. What I really loved is that they had a petite section for short people like me, so I found a couple of great dresses that were cut correctly for my height.

World Trade Centre

Next, we made our way to the World Trade Centre district to see the 9/11 Memorial. One of the most noticeable buildings we saw as we were walking up was the Oculus. It is actually the World Trade Centre train station, designed by Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. Next, we saw the sky-high buildings that were adjacent to the twin towers. To think that twin towers had been taller and then to see the space for the memorial was amazing. The memorial does have an eerie feeling, despite the crowds of people. It makes you remember how crazy that day was and reflect on the tragedy and where we were at the time of the event. I was actually in Athens on my first trip to Europe with my parents. We were in shock and weren’t sure if we would finish the bus tour and be stuck in Europe for months. It seems silly now to think that, but that feeling that we weren’t safe from such a distance was very real. I regret not going to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. I wasn’t that interest to visit it on this trip, since celebrating my birthday. Next time, I hope to go see the museum.

Financial District

We visited the Financial District for lunch and take our next tour bus. It was nothing like I imagined. The roads seemed so narrow with this sky-high buildings and it was also pretty quiet. I did see the Charging Bull of Wall Street, which was in a peculiar position, on a bit land between two roads. I could not get near it, there was way too many tourists taking photos. I have a photo of it below, from the Bus tour, it was still busy.

For lunch, we made a stop for one of the best lobster rolls in New York. This was very exciting because in Australia, lobster is super expensive and usually served in a fine dining restaurant alongside vegetables. Luke’s Lobster has various locations in NYC, across the US and Japan and Taiwan. They offer Maine-style seafood rolls, chowder and bisques using fresh sustainable seafood. They also have vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. On the day we visited, it was pretty busy, with local workers stopping in for a quite bite. We ordered a few different seafood rolls to share, including crab, lobster and prawn, which came with a crab claw and a large pickle. Considering I was dining with people who don’t like seafood, they all loved it as much as I did. Even little O, who was excited to try all the new flavours.

Brooklyn Loop tour

From the Financial District we took the Brooklyn Loop at the Battery Park stop (29). By this stage the heat had finally broken and it was quite drizzly. Luckily the bus offered plastic coats for those like me who wanted to still sit on the top deck.

The tour took us along the southern shore, which runs along the East River and through China Town. We then took the Manhattan Bridge, which gave us great views of the Two Bridge area, as well as the East River and Dumbo, Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, we saw one of the few fuel stations as well as a strange suspended car park. Brooklyn wasn’t exactly what I expected. However, we only saw a little snippet of it, since we only went as far as the Grand Army Plaza, and then turned around and went back over the Manhattan Bridge. It did take a slightly different route on the way to Battery Park, past Seaport and the Charging Bull.

Battery Park

After that tour we were eager to have a break, so we got some cold drinks from Starbucks and relaxed at the Battery Park. This green space is 37 hectares and sits on the southern-most top of Manhattan. There are quite a few monuments in the park, as well as the Pier A Harbor and an abundance of street food vendors.

Downtown Loop tour

We then took our third bus tour, which is actually the second half of the first bus we took that morning. We got on at the Battery Park stop (29) and travelled along the west coast, all the way through Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Time Square. By this stage, we were all toured out, but it wouldn’t be our last bus for the day.

Urbanspace Vanderbilt

For dinner, we wanted to go somewhere near our hotel for a quick bite before the night tour. So, we stopped in at Urbanspace Vanderbilt. This is an amazing food hall, with rotating concepts and diverse cuisines. I really needed to eat some vegetables and wanted to make sure Octavia had someone healthy as well. It was so hard to choose, but I settled with Two Tablespoons, who offer vegan and vegetarian veggie bowls and rice paper rolls. They use mostly organic and locally sourced ingredients and avoid using any heavily processed ingredients. I ordered the Shanti Express, which included a chickpea stew, quinoa, curried Cauliflower and a  kale and Lentils salad. It tasted fresh and fragrant, it was healthy and it was satisfying.

Discover NYC by Night tour

The very last tour of our day was the complimentary evening tour. It began at M&M’s World Stop (37), just a block from Time Square. It was so crowded and hot. I felt like I could barely breathe. Since they were doing construction under the road, there were large pipes pumpkin hot air to the road level, making the streets even warmer. After quite a wait we got the last bus off the night. This bus took us through Time Square, Midtown, China Town, Little Italy, Lower Manhattan, across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, Soho, Greenwich Village and back up to Midtown. Although we saw a lot of we had already seen today, it was definitely different by night. The stories were different and so was the city.

So reflecting back on a big day of Big Bus tours, I think it was totally worth it. I love tours that talk about the history and culture of a city. I normally prefer to do my tour by foot, but this bus tour allowed us to see so much in short amount of time and get to know some of the places we would be visiting. Was three bus tours in one day too much? Well as you can see it was a pretty cruisy day. We still have the Uptown loop and Circle Line Liberty Cruise on day three, which we did on day 3.

1# Throwback Travel- New York: Midtown (day 1)

Back when I began this blog, I had only travelled to the USA for the first time a couple months before. At the time I was still figuring out what I wanted to write about and I only really covered the food and Florida Diseny Parks on this trip. Our travel stops included New York, Washington, Boston, New Orleans and Orlando (Disney). Since then I have written extensively about my travels to Europe, Japan, Singapore and Scandinavia. So I thought it was time to revisit my travel adventure in the USA, since I am planning to go back in the next couple of years. I have found so much family across different states, so my next trip will be focused on places like Connecticut, Detriot, Colorado, LA, Miami, Ohio etc. I would also love to revisit some of the cities I have already seen and do some of the things that I have missed.

Today I will start with our first stop, New York City. This was the place I was most excited to visit and was the perfect place to celebrate my 30th. We spent 7 days in New York and out itinerary was full to the brim with tourist attractions, shopping and yummy food experiences. As I mentioned, I only wrote about the food in New York, so you can read my previous posts Eating through NYC and review of By Chef Chloe restaurant.

Midtown

Marco, Octavia, Sally and I arrived on a warm summer afternoon in August. First thing we did was check into our hotel, without our suitcases. Since we had flown from Brisbane to LA to New York, there was some mixup and didn’t receive our suitcases until the next afternoon. We looked a little dishevled but were so excited to be in the most amazing city in the world.

We stayed at the SpringHill Suites, in Midtown Manhattan, which was quite a good location. Its a short walk from Bryant Park and 34th Street shopping strip and had a great view of the Empire State building. It is also within walking distance from Time Square and Central Park. As soon as we were finished checking in we set off to explore. We made our way towards Bryant Park and found the large streets to be pretty calm. I was expecting to feel like a sardine, but it really wasn’t that crowded.

Our first stop was the beautiful Bryant Park, which was just as I imagined a green space in New York would be. It is 38,860m square space between 40th and 42nd Street in the heart of Midown. On the day of our visit the lawn was closed, but there were plenty of chairs to sit and take in the greenery against the backdrop of sparkling towers and blue sky. Bryant Park hosts lively programs through out the year, including cultural events, classes, kids programs and winter activities. There is also plenty of food kiosks and cafes here. So matter what time of year you visit, its worth making a stop at Bryant Park.

We continued through Midtown, down 41st St and 7th Avenue towards Time Square. Now we were passing through bustling streets with flashy billboards that I was expecting. Along the way we met a friendly police man on horseback, which was very exciting for the kids.

Theater District

Eating in the US was a bit of a worry to me, as I was still breastfeeding at the time. So I tried to look for as many organic, minimally processed and GMO free food options that I could find. Marco’s biggest priority was finding the best American burger he could consume. So I was able to comprismise with this great little organic burger joint, which is only a short walk from Time Square, in the Midtown Theater District. Smokey Burger Organic offers organic, natural burgers, with gluten free, vegetarian, wild game and seafood options. Besides burgers, they also offer fried sides, salads, soups, shakes, sodas, juices, and smoothies.

I ordered the Young, Wild & Free Deluxe Burger which had a ground salmon patty, mango, citrus aioli, caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato. Marco and Sally had the Smokey Burger with ground double beef patties, yellow cheddar, chipotle sauce, caramelized onions, wild mushroom, lettuce, tomato. We also had a side of Sweet Potato Fries and Onion Rings. Everything was really delicious and satifying. The perfect meal for our first night in New York.

After dinner we checked out the famous pedetarian intersection, Time Square. It was so light up with bright billboards of products, brands and broadway show, and bustling with so many tourists. We were just so overwhelmed that we nearly missed the famous Red Stairs, which sits upon the TKTS ticket booth. In the heart of Time Square there are lots of costumed characters, who offer to take photos with you for a tip. They were a bit pushing and we only got photos with them because my mother-in-law happy agreed to get photos, thinking they were free.

Time Square is pretty amazing to see as a first time visiter, but as the days went on I found it to be a tourist vortex. It was very hard to get out of when you are passing through, because it was so crowded. Its extremelly touristy, but it also has plenty of entertainment, shopping, dining options, and of course Broadway. So any first-timer or tourist need to make a stop in Time Square and see at least one show on Broadway. We saw a few shows, which I will explain further in a future post.

That bring us to the end of our first night in New York City. On day two we did the tourist buses and Finanical District, to see 9/11 Memorial.

Have you been to New York? What did you think of Midtown and Time Square?

Finnish Roadtrip: Kuopio to Salonlinna (day 5)

On our fifth day of our Finnish road trip we travelled from Kuopio to Salonlinna. We didn’t get to see much of Kuopio due to the Midsummer holiday, but we were able to visit the Puijo Tower. In Savonalinna, we made a scenic trip to a crepe house, visited the Olavinlinna Castle and had dinner on the water. So it was a pretty good day.

Kuopio

This morning we walked down to the Kuopio town centre. We were hoping that cafes and shops would be open. I really wanted to have breakfast at Trube Cafe, which is inside the Apaja Shopping Center. It has been around since 1913 and they sell baked Finnish baked goods and served their coffee in Moomin mugs. Unfortuately everything was closed, except a few food stalls. Since we didn’t have cash we decided to do breakfast elsewhere.

Before leaving we went past the Kuopio Cathedral. The building was built in 1806-15 and is a stone Neoclassical-style construction. Since there was a service I wasn’t able to take photos inside. The interior is quite plan and is mostly white walls with touches of gold Empire features.

Luckily, the Puijo Tower was open today and they have a cafe, so that was our next stop. This observation tower is located on the top of Puijo hill and is one of Finland’s oldest tourist attractions, visited by over 80,000 tourists per year. The original tower was build back in 1856, standing 16m high and was made of wood. The second tower was build in 1906, standing at 24m tall and was made of stone. The current tower was built in 1963 and is now 75m tall. It gives an unobstructive 360 degree view of Kuopio and beyond and thus is a symbol for the city of Kuopio. During the WW2 the Women’s Voluntary Defence Corps of Kuopio were able to carry out air survelliance from the Puijo tower.

On the first level you can find a tourist shop, where you can buy tickets to visit the tower. It costs about 6 euros for an adult or 4 euro for a student. You can take the lift up to the first observation platform, which is enclosed and has a cafe area. Here they sell a selection of pastarie, snacks and drinks. We got some Puolukka-vaniljapulla (lingon-berry vanilla scroll), Feta-tomaattihyrrä (tomato feta scoll) and some filtered coffees. They were not the best pastries but they weren’t too bad either.

After satisfying our hunger we walked around the observation deck. Every few metres there are photographic panels of the different viewing perspectives. These panels have markers which give context to the different locations you can see from that point of view. We were also able to go up to another viewing platform which is outside. These views were even more spectacular without the glass. However, it was pretty cold and windy so we couldn’t stay too long.

Adjacent to Puijo tower is the Hotelli Puijon Maja and a few text panels. These panels are in Finnish and English and describe different aspects of the Puijo ridge.

Now it was time to drive for us to drive to Savonalinna. This took about two hours by car, taking us from Northern Savonia into Southern Savonia. If you have more time you can make a stop to the Monastery of Valamo, which would add another hour to your trip. It is the only remaining Orthodox monastary and is believed to be about 800 years old.

Savonalinna

Savonalinna is located in southest Finland and it’s name means Castle of Savonia. That is because the Olivinalinna Castle, which was built when the city was founded in 1639. This 15th century castle is the main tourist attract for the town and the reason we had to visit. They also offer a range of summer and winter activities, local handicrafts, shopping and restaurants. So there are more then one reason to visit Savonalina.

When we arrived we first had to check into our Airbnb. This accomodation was a small summer cottage on farm land. Our hosts were a young hip Finnish couple with some beautiful dogs. They were very friendly and helpful and lived just behind the small house. As for the accomodation it wasn’t stylish as others, but it was comfortable, clean and had a lovely view of the green clearing. It gave us a taste of what it would be like staying in a typical summer house during the Midsummer holiday.

By now we were getting pretty hungry again and luckily the next stop on my itinery was open today. Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is located on Sulosarri island and they serve sweet and savoury crepes, icecream and coffee. To get there we drove as close as we could to the walking trail, which took us to a bridge that we walked over. Its not a long walk and its quite lovely and scenic.

Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is in a small summer house, which was built in 1899 for Saint Olaf`s sanatoriums guests. The menu offers crepes with a large list of sweet or savoury toppings to add. Since we were unsure what to chose we went with a few of the suggested combinations. After ordering we first sat inside admirig the artworks, but once there was a table available outside we moved. It was so pretty out there and the perfect place to relax with someone delicious.

So the crepes we ordered were the Pesto and feta cheese with artichoke, Salted peanuts with carmel sauce and whipped cream; and the Smetana (sour cream) with pickles and honey. It’s hard to chose the best because they were all pretty yummy. The two sweet tooths prefered the sweeter options, but I also love a savoury crepe.

After lunch we made our way to the Olavinlinna Castle, to do the castle tour. I will do a dedicated post for this visit, since we covered alot of ground there.

For dinner we headed to Savonlinna Market Square, where there were quite a few restaurants open and food stands. Some of the ones on my list included Restaurant Muikkuterassi, Ravintola Majakka and Kalastajan Koju.

I really had my heart set on going to Kalastajan Koju, which I read offers fresh seafood caught by the owner at an affordable price. I just had a little trouble finding it because according to Google maps it was located in the adjacent building to where I found it. The menu offered a variety of dishes with muikku fish, as well as salmon, perch, soup and sausages. Since I had eaten vendace at the night before, which is similar to muikku, I wanted to try the something different. I was yet to try Elk in Finland, so tonight was the night. I ordered the Bratwurst and Elk Sausage with Potato and Salad, as well as the Fish, chips coleslaw and remoulade annd a couple of local ciders. The food was simple, but flavoursome and delicious. The ciders were also pretty great.

The last thing we did attempt to see was the Savonlinna Cathedral. However, it was closed when we got there. With such a bright sky we forgot how late it was. This churhc was designed by A.H. Dahlstrom in 1858. It was damaged in 1940, by air raids, but has been reconstructed. It is a relatively plain church, but you can see the interior here.