A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

New York, New York

We got an early start on this adventure, flying out of MSP at 8 o'clock for New York. We debated on how many times we've visited New York City and decided it has to be 10 or 12 times now. It doesn't really matter, though, because there is always something new to see or do.
We checked in to our hotel around one, the Crowne Plaza in Times Square (where we stayed during the 9-11 tragedy). It didn't take long to check in and get settled and then we were on our way to lunch.

Susie had planned over day in advance (she is the ultimate travel planner!) so we headed straight to the Pig and Whistle, an Irish pub that has escaped our attention on previous trips. The lunch special was breaded cod on a French roll –expected at an Irish place on a Friday during Lent. We abstained from meat, but John did have a Guinness and Susie tasted a cider. All together it was enough to keep us going for the afternoon.. Then it was off to the NBC studios for a tour.

Susie had pre-booked us for a three o'clock tour. It took us down hallways that many folks we've come to know through the years, from Huntley and Brinkley to the ever-changing cast of Saturday Night Live. Have walked and worked. The SNL studio is much smaller than we imagined it would be, but we were told that all of the studios at 30 Rock were built as radio studios, before the days of television.

We also peeked into the NBC central operations room, where broadcasts from all of the studios are monitored continuously for NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and all of the other related broadcast and cable stations owned by the conglomerate of Universal/NBC/Comcast.
Just outside the studios we found the Playwright Tavern, another Irish pub. It was a nice stop for a happy hour.

Then it was back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner and a show.

Our search for the old reliable Ray's Pizza shop was fruitless; you can only find it when you aren't looking for it. So we stepped into La Famiglia Family Pizza shop for a slice. We finished up just in time to step up the block to the Wintergarden Theater for the long-playing Broadway show Mama Mia! We had fourth row seats (thanks to Susie) and the show was fantastic. Something else fantastic was the concession prices. We stopped and bought one soda, one cocktail (both in "collector glasses") and a box of candy...yes, candy...for the fantastic price of $29. Wow! But we definitely enjoyed the show and the cast treated us to three encores.
After the show, we passed our hotel and continued down to Times Square—there's nothing like Times Square at night with all the lighted screens and billboards and the hundreds of people passing by.

One familiar neon sign ahead beckoned us to the Roxy Deli. We've walked past this little landmark place for years and never stepped in. But what better way to top off a great day in the Big Apple than to treat ourselves to a late night cup of decaf and a cannoli (rich Italian pastry with a rolled, crunchy shell stuffed with Mascarpone cheese and chocolate chips).

Posted by jeburns55 19:24 Comments (0)

New York, New York 2

Saturday morning we treated ourselves to a "sleep in". Once we were up, we got ready for the day and took advantage of the complimentary breakfast at the hotel.

Stepping onto Broadway, we hailed one of the hundreds of yellow cabs that dominate the city streets and asked him to take us to the Museum of the City of New York at the north end of Central Park. The various displays document the development of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs from the time the Dutch settled the area in the 1600's through modern times. This year is a landmark year marking the 100th anniversary of adopting "the grid", the evenly plotted lots and streets that pattern Manhattan from near the southern tip up to Harlem and the neighborhoods north of Central Park. Many lithographs and photos that are displayed mark the progress of changing Manhattan Island from hilly and rocky forests and farms criss-crossed with Indian trails and wagon paths to a level and orderly grid work of city blocks dissected by streets that formed 1836 intersections.
Having started a day learning the history of NYC, we decided to stay on that track by visiting the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. The museum itself is located at 97 Orchard Street and is an actual tenement building built in 1863. "Tenement" was defined as an apartment building that was designed to house at least six households. Most of them were built to minimum standards with no plumbing, only one window, and only two or three small rooms. The units at 97 Orchard were four to a floor with five floors– and each had one bedroom, one kitchen and one parlor within 300 sq. ft.

Visitors to the museum can choose to visit one of several apartments recreating a real family that lived in it during its years in service. We opted for the home of the Irish family (surprise!). The family moved up from the Five Corners area (a much dirtier and violent neighborhood that was
predominately Irish) in 1869, likely in the hopes that their new, but sickly, daughter's health would improve. Unfortunately, it did not and the parlor today is recreated in the manner of an Irish wake. The entire experience was insightful, as our guide encouraged us to compare and contrast immigration issues then and now.

Lunch was supposed to be at Katz Deli (does anyone remember the movie When Harry Met Sally), but the wait was hours long. Wandering back toward Houston Street, we came upon Donnybrook's Pub...yes, there is a definite theme here...and they were still serving a great brunch and a brew. Afterward, we found a cab and headed back to the hotel to get our bags.

The taxi ride to JFK got us there before we could even check in, so we had a snack and watched a movie on the laptop. By the time the movie was over, we were able to check in, go through security...and wait some more...for hours and hours...playing cards and calling the folks back home. High winds earlier in the day had delayed the flight schedules across the board, but we were in the air before midnight on a Turkish Air 777 on our way to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to Kenya—on our last continent!

Posted by jeburns55 19:25 Comments (0)

In Flight: Kenya via Turkey

Not much to report on here. This was a grueling day with time spent between airports and airplanes.

Flying out of JFK before midnight, we flew across the Atlantic Ocean on Turkish Airlines for about nine hours. Add a seven hour time differential and the confusion in your brain is understandable. We had two or three hours of transfer time in Istanbul, Turkey, and then departed on the second leg of the journey which lasted about six hours and we arrived in Nairobi somewhere around two or three in the morning. The time to get through customs was long and the 15 minute drive to the hotel from the airport was more like 45 minutes because of red tape and traffic...but in the end, it was all worthwhile.

Let me take a minute to say that Turkish Airlines has become the benchmark of airline travel for us. In the past, we've pretty much held Air New Zealand in the top spot—with foot rests, extra spaced reclining seats, and complimentary wine. Turkish Air, however, has one-upped A.N.Z. with not only foot rests and extra space in the seats, but the seats are like stadium seating in a theatre; the seat slides forward while the back slides down. And the personal entertainment screens for each passenger had 34 movies to choose...and they have complimentary sandwiches and beverages including wine after two excellent meals.

That being said, we were dog-tired by the time we got in the air and remained that way through most of the day. We were briefly exhilarated when we arrived at our hotel and showered.

Then we slept like the dead.

Posted by jeburns55 19:26 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Nairobi, Kenya

Ah, what a shower and a good night's sleep and another shower—can do for one's outlook on life!

We were in bed by 4:30 and up by 11 o'clock in the morning. After an invigorating shower, we headed for lunch since we missed the complimentary breakfast. (I must make one quick observation: you know how difficult it is to not eat the last brownie in the pan or not eat more than one potato chip? Either of those things are much easier than not slurping a bit of water in the shower or when you are brushing your teeth IF you are in a place where you can't drink the water...and you drank all of your bottled water the night before and this morning your mouth is as dry as the Sahara Desert...which is only a few hundred mile north of us right now...) Back to today's story...

The hotel had a wonderful buffet lunch starting at noon so we hit it hard; and everything was delicious. Salads, cold sea foods, soups, roast pork loin, lots of things that we had never heard of, and piles of desserts. And all of it was good. (Oh, and we drank ginger ales and a liter of bottled water!)

By one o'clock, we were ready to meet our guides and the rest of the group. There are only 16 of us on the tour, from everywhere in the U.S. including Washington DC, Florida, Michigan, Chicago, Seattle, and Connecticut.

Our local (Nairobi) guide is Eileen and our full tour guide is Albert. They gave us the rundown for the rest of the day and the rest of the week. Our group will travel in 3 vans, with six tourists in two and four in one.
After the gathering, we got on the road. The afternoon was spent in a area about an hour outside the city on land that once belonged to Karen Blixen. More on her in a moment, but our first stop was at a fantastic reserve for one of the most notable wild animals in Africa: the giraffe.
You may or may not know (we didn't) that there are nine sub-species of giraffe. The only way to tell them apart is by their patterns. The reserve we visited is dedicated to one of the three giraffes found in Kenya, and one of the most endangered. This is the Rothschild giraffe. The Rothschild is distinct because of their white “socks” on the lower legs. The compound we visited is home to a total of five giraffes at this time. We were given an educational lecture on the species and then we were invited to hand feed them...and to kiss them if we chose to do so. (John and Susie chose not to…) To kiss them, you put a food pellet in your mouth and then a giraffe would wrap the tip of its 18-inch tongue around the pellet and lick it out. Slimy.
After feeding, petting, and photographing the graceful creatures, it was back to the vans and on to the Blixen House. If you remember the movie from the 1980’s (starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) you may recall that Karen Blixen was a Danish woman who moved to Kenya in the early 1900’s with her husband. They had about 6000 acres here and intended to grow coffee. The coffee farming didn’t work out; neither did the marriage. Karen’s husband moved away, but she stayed with her boyfriend for several years. They lived an interesting life until her beau was killed in a plane crash. Karen went bankrupt and moved back to Denmark. It was only after that—when she wrote several books about her experiences, including “Out of Africa” upon which the movie was based—that she became successful and renowned. The estate was broken up into 20 acre plots, but the original home is intact and still breath-taking with its gorgeous trees and flowering hedges. All of us agreed that we could live there.
Traveling a very short distance from the Blixen House, we found ourselves at the Kazuri Bead Factory. Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop to make handmade beads. The founder, Lady Susan Wood, discovered many local women who were single mothers needing regular employment and she expanded the business to provide opportunities to those in need. Today, Kazuri beads are sold in stores around the world and provide employment for many disadvantaged people here. We were given a tour and had time to do a little shopping.

By the time we had finished the tour, it was time to weave our way back through the rush hour traffic of Nairobi to our hotel. In a city of 3.8 million people, there are 1.4 million automobiles, so the streets do get crowded. Once back, we are advised to stay here; walking alone on the city streets after dark is not recommended. That was fine with us. The two of us shared a small bottle of champagne one the poolside deck to celebrate a milestone in our lives. We followed with a drink and a sandwich in the lobby lounge where a piano player tinkled out some classic American tunes. A perfect end to a fine day.

Tomorrow, we pack up and head for the wilder parts of Kenya!

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." St. Augustine

You know us. You know travel is one of our passions.

A long time ago, we learned two things: one, the book of the world is really big; and two, we will never be able to read every page! Keeping those things in mind, we decided that our own personal goal would be to read at least a few pages in each of the seven chapters that represent the seven continents of the world: North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Antarctica, Asia, and Africa.

We have (and continue to) read many pages about North America, where we live. In 2000 our initial trip to Ireland was our first joint adventure onto the European continent. Australia and New Zealand in 2005 introduced us to another chapter. Our lengthy trip at the end of 2007 took us to South America and Antarctica. Chapter six was a glimpse of China just last fall. So here we are in Kenya, our first journey into Africa, reading some of the many pages from the last chapter of our Book of the World. We've celebrated reaching our goal with a chilled bottle of champagne.

So we have reached our own personal goal. It wasn't meant to be a race or a contest; it doesn't give us any "bragging rights." It's something we do with each other-for each other. And, of course, we will continue to travel; we will keep reading more interesting and exciting pages in this fantastic Book of the World.

Posted by jeburns55 19:27 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Lake Naivasha

We were treated to a late morning in bed —which was good because it’s always harder to sleep through the second night. Breakfast was included and it was a full buffet with a mix of American and African fare.

We were told to meet at 9:45 in the lobby and everyone was there and rearin’ to go. The group was split into three groups to ride in the vans. Four mid-aged ladies who are travelling in a group (mostly retired school teachers) are sharing our van. All of the luggage was fit into the van and off we went to the Elephant Orphanage on one edge of Nairobi. We knew we must be getting out of the city center when we saw the olive baboons running down the road in front of us! And then we reached our first stop.

The David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage was established some years ago as a place to raise up baby elephants whose mothers were killed, primarily it seems by poachers or farmers. Each baby elephant is paired with a human “maternal” partner. The elephant and the human live together in a “dorm room”; this is because baby elephants are totally dependent on their mother until they are at least two years old. The similarities between elephants and humans were astounding. Elephants nurse until they are nearly two; they are fed soymilk formula because they don’t tolerate cow milk very well; they sleep on a mattress (an area of scraped and softened dirt in the wild); and they must be kept warm with a blanket because they are susceptible to pneumonia (in the wild, the older elephants surround and cuddle with the babies to keep them warm).
We were introduced to two groups of elephants: the “infants”, from four months to one year old, and the “toddlers”, from one year to three years old. The infants stuck really close to their handlers, especially the four month old. The toddlers were more independent, in fact, they held their own bottles and then wrestled in the dust mound. All in all, this was a delightfully entertaining, and totally educational stop. On the way out of the compound, we stopped and visited a rhinoceros.
Back on the bus, we headed out of the city to the northwest. Our destination for the day is Lake Naivasha. The lake was formed by a volcano millions of years ago and lies in the Great Rift Valley. The Rift Valley is a huge tear in the earth that extends from Lebanon in the Middle East down across western Africa beyond southern Kenya. It dropped several thousand feet down and is usually less than 100 miles across. Much of the trip took us through the outer neighborhoods of Nairobi, many that are poor...some even shanty towns.

Once we finally left the outskirts of the city and entered the country, we began to see more small fields, cattle, and goats. At intervals, small “towns” of ramshackle buildings would spring up...butchers, bars, markets, repair shops, and hotels (not like any most of us have seen before). As the road began to wind around the hillsides, fantastic views down into the great valley opened up in front of us. We made a short stop at a roadside market overlooking the valley. Most of us succumbed to the marketing abilities of the local folks and bought a souvenir or two. Back on the bus and we were down into the flat lands of the unique acacia trees, wide grasslands, and the occasional goats. After 25 or 30 minutes of seeing the same scenery, we became less aware of what was around us...and that’s when the herd of zebras ran across the road in front of our van!

Yes, it seemed that we were finally into the heart of Africa.

A few more miles and we had reached our destination: the Lake Naivasha Country Club...a beautiful resort on the shore of the lake. While our guide checked us in, we ate lunch. Then we were led to our individual cottages. We had only a short time to settle in and then we headed for the boat dock.

A part of our tour included a boat tour of the lake. Six to a boat and off we went across a good portion of the several hundred acres that the lake covers. Just off the dock, we spotted our first hippopotamus. This was just too cool, watching them bite and blow and munch…in some ways, not so different from watch moose, except when you see one hippo you will see half a dozen. But the hippos — although we saw several herds around the lake — were just the beginning of our wild life tour. Throughout the boat ride, we saw dozen birds — including the lofty Africa fish eagle — and when we paused alongside an island, a herd of impalas was joined by zebras, wildebeests, and water bucks. As Susie said, if you were to rate days on a scale of 1 to 10 — this was an 11.
Back from the boat ride, it was down time...time to sit on the veranda of our cottage and watch the monkeys playing in the hammock on the lawn. Then a happy hour at the main lodge while the giraffes and hippos graze on the lawn (and hopefully, the local leopard that has been frequenting the parking lot doesn’t show up!), and then a leisurely dinner.

And tomorrow...the “Road Across Hell”.

Note: The African elephant is the largest living land mammal. Of all its specialized features, the muscular trunk is perhaps the most extraordinary. It serves as a nose, hand, extra foot, signaling device and tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting, and digging. The tusks are another notable feature of both males and females. Elephants are right or left-tusked, using the favored tusk more often, thus shortening it from constant wear. Tusks differ in size, shape and angle and researchers can use them to identify individuals.

Posted by jeburns55 19:28 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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