New York, New York

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For an extended weekend just prior to Christmas, Susan and I, along with her parents, had the privilege of visiting New York City! This was my first trip to the Big Apple and I was determined to make the most of it. Our primary focus was Manhattan, which I assume is natural, and we basically hit every landmark possible in three and a half days.

This selfie became our Christmas card photo

This selfie became our Christmas card photo

Thursday, December 18, 2014: Arrive at LaGuardia Airport. By virtue of using LaGuardia, the borough of Queens was visited, even if it was just by the virtue of a cab ride to and from. It did seem odd that Citi Field is so close to the airport, but at least it is in New York and not New Jersey (looking at you Giants and Jets).

Times Square was always busy, but it was great place to start each day

Times Square was always busy, but it was great place to start each day

From the airport, we headed towards our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Time Square. The cab ride was long thanks to traffic, but it allowed me to observe the skyscrapers and landmarks along the way. We were early for check in, but our rooms were ready, so we were able to get our bags to our room and start being tourists. And luckily for us, our rooms were upgraded to king beds, which I am sure no one in history has ever complained about! From our hotel window we had a view of Times Square and the ball that will drop on New Year’s Eve, which was better than the side of a building that my in-laws were treated with.

Awesome view of NYC

Awesome view of NYC

Lunch was at a burger place called The Counter, which was really good, the amount of customization for each burger was astounding. After lunch, we walked around Times Square and Bryant Park. Susan and her mom enjoying looking through all of the Christmas shops in Bryant Park and I was just taking in the sights. I must say that the characters that wander around Times Square are creepy. Most of them do no speak English, and costumes are not exactly top-notch quality. We saw a Mickey Mouse with a pink face and pointy ears, a hybrid of Cookie Monster and Animal from the Muppets, a Leatherface Statue of Liberty, and a blonde Mario. There were several others, but those will be etched into my nightmares for a while. And to be fair, there were some really good ones, most notably the man dressed as Batman.

If this has to be a warning, then you should not engage the characters.

If this has to be a warning, then you should not engage the characters.

We then walked to the Empire State Building. I know it is touristy to do, but I wanted to go to the top of it, so we did. The views were awesome, and the architecture and design inside of the building was beautiful. I tried to do a self-guided tour, but my device was broken.

Impressive

Impressive

After the Empire State Building, we returned to our hotel to get ready to watch Aladdin on Broadway. Aladdin was being shown at the New Amsterdam Theatre which was very ornate inside, but the seating was cramped. I thought my legs were going to be horribly bruised from how I was sitting for the show. This was excused because of the performance of James Monroe Iglehart as The Genie. It was the most amazing single performance that I have every had to privilege of witnessing! I could watch and listen to his rendition of “Friend Like Me” on repeat for the rest of time! After the show, we just grabbed dinner at a hot dog stand in Times Square and called it a night.

Great show!

Great show!

Friday, December 19, 2014: We awoke and headed out early. We had breakfast at a little place near the hotel called the Evergreen. It was a good and cheap breakfast place, that got insanely busy before we left. Afterwards, we trekked on to 30 Rock, Radio City Music Hall, 5th Avenue, and FAO Schwarz. It there was not a line of children, I would have played that piano from Big! Seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center seemed to be that most asked about landmark from everyone about our trip, so, yes, we saw and took our picture with the tree on Friday morning.

Tree at Rockefeller Center

Tree at Rockefeller Center

After walking around all of the stores and sights near and around 30 Rock, we headed to Brooklyn for some pizza. we ate a Grimaldi’s Under the Bridge, for some fantastic pizza, and a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We gorged ourselves on this pizza since it is nothing like what we can get here in Memphis, and then headed back over the bridge to continue our touristy adventures.

Nice view post slice

Nice view post slice

First, we hit Battery Park for a view of the Statue of Liberty. We decided since the weather was on the chilly side, we would not venture out to the statue, and I just got a glimpse from the park.

9/11 Memorial (South Tower)

9/11 Memorial (South Tower)

Then we headed to Ground Zero. There is so much that I can and want to write about this portion of our trip that I am going to at a later date to try to do it justice. I will say that it was very sobering to see the Freedom Tower, and 9/11 Memorials and Museum. The entire time you are there you are either crying or on the verge of crying. There is so much to see in the museum and the tribute to each victim will give you chills. We also visited St. Paul’s Chapel, “the Little Church That Stood” which is a remarkable building in its own right. I will go into greater detail when I do my Ground Zero post, but this church has stood for centuries, and was protected from a downed cedar on 9/11. Susan has book about it that she shares with her children every year on 9/11.

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower

After the very emotional visit to Ground Zero, we took a cab back to Times Square where we ate a Junior’s, and discovered amazing cheesecake and black and white cookies. Both items were delicious, and were consumed repeatedly throughout the rest of the trip.

I had to get my cheesecake to go

I had to get my cheesecake to go

Saturday, December 20, 2014: The day started at the Evergreen, and then we headed to Central Park for a carriage ride. We walked around Columbus Circle and then headed to Tom’s Restaurant, which is better known as Monk’s to those of us Seinfeld nerds in the world, and then had lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster Rolls.

This might be the most common photo from every Seinfeld fan when the visit New York

This might be the most common photo from every Seinfeld fan when the visit New York

After lunch, we had a museum tour/scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History conducted by Watson’s. The hunt was very detailed, and was designed to take over two hours to complete. And since we were double booked with scavenger hunts, and the temperature in the museum was somewhere between the sun and the seventh layer of Hell, we left early.

I could have spent all day in the dinosaur exhibits.

I could have spent all day in the dinosaur exhibits.

Our second scavenger hunt was in the Village so we exited the museum, grabbed a cab, and headed south. This scavenger hunt was conducted by Accomplice: The Show. There is one for New York and The Village, but during December, the New York show is not available. The actors in the show are of great quality, and you end up seeing quite a bit of the Village as you go from place to place to gather clues. It is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but the amount of fun heavily depends on the amount of engagement of your fellow participants. If you get some duds in your group, your experience will be tarnished somewhat.

Triceratops!

Triceratops!

After solving the crime in Accomplice, we headed to Katz’s Delicatessen for dinner. We did not sit in the When Harry Met Sally table, but we did get to absorb the full Katz’s experience. I went with the pastrami and it was delicious! I was able to conquer the entire sandwich, which was not an easy feat.

So freaking good!

So freaking good!

After dinner, we, along with 6 billion other people returned to Rockefeller Center to see the tree at night. My mother-in-law wanted a family photo with the tree, but that was not happening. We fought the crowds for a bit, looking at the decorated store front windows, and then headed back towards the hotel, making sure to detour for some more cheesecake before retiring for the evening.

The tree, at night, with several other spectators

The tree, at night, with several other spectators

Sunday, December 21, 2014: This was our last day in New York, and it was mainly a travel day. We did have another trip through Times Square and Bryant Park, buying some last-minute souvenirs and getting one more taste of the culinary fare of New York. Over the course of the extended weekend in New York, we saw everything on our list, walked over 23 miles along the streets of the city, and got a brief glimpse into another area of the country. I guess you can say that we enjoyed our trip, and we look forward to our next visit to NYC! Also, sorry for the novel of a post, I guess I should have separated it by each day!

A pic of Susan and I at the tree at Rockefeller Center

A pic of Susan and I at the tree at Rockefeller Center

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WDW Marathon: Everything But the Race

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I feel that I covered the WDW Marathon and my experience rather thoroughly, so this post is going to be about everything else that I did while I was at my runcation.  Susan and I traveled to Disney World on the Thursday prior to the marathon and left on Monday.  During that time, we squeezed in four days in the parks and several excellent meals.  And since we went down to Disney for the marathon, our approach to visiting the parks was altered slightly from what we have previously done.  Instead of going 100 miles an hour from the second the parks opened until the second the parks closed, we scaled back our time in the parks, but still logged several daily miles.  I also brought my GoPro camera along on some of the rides.

The Resort:  Usually, Susan and I stay at Coronado Springs when we visit Disney, but we could not book a room there for marathon weekend.  Instead, we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort, which is the largest resort at Walt Disney World, and falls into the moderate resort category.  Caribbean Beach was very disappointing and honestly was overpriced for what you get.  The interior of the room felt and looked cheap.  There were pools, and beaches, and dining at the resort, as it is at all of the moderate resorts, but the rooms were lacking.  There are no rooms with king sized beds in the entire resort!  Our room had a cheap, white ceiling fan, a Finding Nemo wallpaper runner around the top of the room, and uncomfortable, bland bedding.  For the same price, Coronado Springs has ornate doors and decorations, much better bedding, and closer proximity to the amenities that make the resort a moderate resort.  We will never stay at Caribbean Beach again.

Nemo wallpaper from our room

Nemo wallpaper from our room

Thursday: Between flying into town, checking into the resort, the expo, and an intense rain storm, most of our day was consumed outside of the parks.  We did manage to go to Epcot late in the afternoon to ride some rides and dinner.  Test Track is by far the best ride at Epcot (sorry Soarin’ fans), even if it is just a Chevrolet commercial. and enjoyed dinner at the Coral Reef, which is an underwater themed restaurant with a large aquarium.  You pay more for the atmosphere than the food, but every time that I have gone there, I have found something worthwhile to eat.  On this evening I tried the grilled Mahi Mahi with laughing bird shrimp, hearts of palm, jasmine rice, cilantro, and a coconut-lime sauce.  Susan had the crab cakes and both were good.  After dinner we grabbed a cronut for a snack, which is the greatest thing ever!  It is a croissant prepared like a doughnut (not runner friendly), covered in cinnamon and sugar.  This was the first time we had one and it was not disappointing.  After our dessert, we watched the fireworks show Illuminations, which is a phenomenal show and it is the personal favorite of both Susan and myself.

The Cronut!

The Cronut!

Friday:  We did some park hopping, trying our best to maximize the value for our tickets.  Our day started at Hollywood Studios, where we rode the Tower of Terror multiple times and took in several shows since we were trying to limit the miles we walked.  We also were able to work in a ride on Aerosmith’s Rock ‘N Roller Coaster thinks to Fast Pass+ on our Magic Bands.  Dinner was at the Brown Derby where we enjoyed their “world-famous” Cobb Salad and grapefruit cake.  After dinner we headed over to the Magic Kingdom to check out the new Fantasyland, including Beast’s Castle and the new Little Mermaid ride since that is Susan and my sister-in-law’s favorite Disney movie.  We also watched Wishes, which is their nightly fireworks show.

I used my GoPro on several rides throughout the day, but honestly, they were not that impressive.  Tower of Terror and Space Mountain were too dark to be worthwhile, whereas the Little Mermaid ride is a little slow to post.  I honestly shot that one specifically for my sister-in-law.  I did not use my GoPro on the Rock ‘N Roller Coaster because I was afraid it would fall off (same as Test Track) and it was dark in there as well, so the video would not have been great.

Saturday: We started our day at Animal Kingdom, which is the best park to start at since everyone wants to go to the bigger parks first, so you can do everything you want in a relativity quick manner.  We rode Expedition Everest three times, Dinosaur, and the Kilimanjaro Safari within the first hour an a half of going to the park.  I got an awesome video from the front seat of Expedition Everest since there was not that many people to contend with for seating.  My video for Dinosaur was not great, so I will not be posting it.  So enjoy my video of Expedition Everest!

After leaving the park, we returned to our hotel to relax with Susan’s cousins at the pool.  I did make a return trip to the expo for some fuel and a last second walk around.  Dinner that evening was at Il Mulino and it was easily one of the best Italian restaurants in which I have ever eaten.  I took it easy, but all of our friends and family really enjoyed the food and wine.  The rice balls and gnocchi were both phenomenal and the Caesar salad was hands down the best I ever had.  The portions were huge and I am really glad that Susan and I decided to split the gnocchi.  And honestly, the place was the most reasonably priced meal of the entire weekend, especially when you consider the quality and amount of food you get.  I can not wait to return there when I can fully enjoy the menu and atmosphere.

Sunday:  After the race, we went to Germany in Epcot to refuel and enjoy some liquid refreshment.  My grandmother is from Germany and my mom spent many years over there, so I love German food.  Not to mention the gigantic beers that they serve there.  After lunch, I had to have another cronut, this time a la mode, and then we went back to our hotel to shower and crash for a couple of hours.  That was the best sleep of the entire week!

Prost from Germany after the race for some beers

Prost from Germany after the race for some beers

After our nap, we returned to Epcot for dinner at Le Cellier, which is the steakhouse in Canada.  My first impression of the restaurant was that every employee was incredibly attractive.  It was quite noticeable and unexpected.  Apparently there is something in the water up north.  Now onto the food.  Susan and I split the cheddar cheese soup and Caesar salad for appetizers.  You are also given a trio of breads, all of which were good.  Dipping the pretzel bread into the cheese soups was great. Then we both ordered the filet with wild mushroom risotto and the steaks were on par with any steakhouse that I have had the privilege to previously visit.  It was the most expensive meal of the trip, but it was worth it.

This is Disney Parks photo of the filet at Le Cellier. Ours looked really close to this actually.

This is Disney Parks photo of the filet at Le Cellier. Ours looked really close to this actually.

We enjoyed our trip to Disney, and even though we did not do as much as a typical trip there, we did hit all of our favorite rides and enjoyed some great meals.  I really did a poor job of taking photos of my food while in Disney, so I do apologize for that.

Chattanooga Trip

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Last week I posted about my experience at the 4 Bridges Half Marathon, and I barely touched on anything about the weekend besides the race.  This post is going to be about the sights  and experiences that Susan, her sister, and I had over the weekend.  There might be a little overlap with my previous post, but the majority of the info will be new,  I will not rehash the race or our bed and breakfast, The Mayor’s Mansion, which was awesome.  I will, however, talk quite a bit about food, especially food that is not ideal for weight loss.

The view from the park

The view from the park

The Places We Ate

Anyone that knows me knows that when it comes to going out to eat, I prefer to go to a local place.  It is great to support your local community, try some unique recipes, and bathe in the culture.  This is doubly true when I travel away from Memphis.  I can have the same mediocre steak at an Applebee’s anywhere!  I usually refer to Yelp!, Urbanspoon, the Man vs. Food website, or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives website to see what is out there.  This trip, however, I did not have to rely very heavily on electronic reviews since my sister-in-law lives in Chattanooga and served as our culinary tour guide.

The first place that we ate at was Good Dog, which is a hot dog restaurant by the park in which the race expo and packet pickup was at.  I know not everyone likes hot dogs, but I do, and this place was beyond amazing.  There were numerous varieties to choose from and a plethora of toppings as well.  The fries were home cut in-house and come served in a cone that sits in a hole drilled into the tables.  There are four types of house ketchup available on the table and a house rub as well.  I went with the BLT dog, which was exactly what it sounds like.  The homemade mayo, called fritesaus was great, and I cannot wait to try some more of the menu items here in the future.

Our food was a little bit better than this

Our food was a little bit better than this

The second place we visited was the Big River Grille & Brewing Works.  This is not 100% local because there is a restaurant open in Nashville, and Lake Buena Vista, FL, but we don’t have one in Memphis, so it counts.  The wait here was insane, so we opted to sit on the patio.  This was a big mistake.  The temperature was steadily dropping and by the time we finished our meal, all of our teeth were chattering.  It was this experience that prompted the trip to Wal-Mart for my cold weather gear.  I did not order a beer since it was cold and we were trying to rush our order, but I really wish I did.  Susan had a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado and bacon, my sister-in-law had a cobb salad, and I tried the Mac ‘N Chicken.  My meal was rich, but very good, and portion was huge.  I only ate about half of it, which I appreciated the following morning during the half marathon!

After the race on Sunday, we went to Taco Mamacita.  This is another local place that is expanding to new markets, namely Nashville and Sullivan’s Island, SC.  The place is billed as “Fresh-Mex” due to the high quality of the ingredients.  We all three opted for the two taco and side deal.  We ordered the California Club (chicken, avocado, bacon), Taco Royale (double stacked taco with chicken and chorizo), and Oy Vey (brisket) tacos, and the Mexican street corn, charro beans, and green chilli rice as our sides.  The California Club and street corn were the far and away winners, but I would have no reservations about ordering anything that we had again.  I also enjoyed a Sweetwater 420 while the ladies had homemade sangria.  There was also something on the menu called a Durty Sanchez, which was a PBR and shot of tequila.  The man beside us order this against the wishes of his wife and young daughter.  She almost had him convinced that it was too early to drink when are drinks from the bar came out.  Whoops!

Durty Sanchez

Durty Sanchez

For an afternoon snack, I suggested that we try an ice cream place called Clumpy’s.  My sister-in-law had never been there, but it was next to Good Dog and seemed promising.  The was a considerable line when we got there and it only kept growing as we waited.  There was only one poor soul working, and he was earning every tip that he got.  The ice cream and waffle cones are homemade on site, so this is what I had.  I used opt out of a cone, but the ones coming off of the waffle iron smelled too good to pass up.  The ice cream selection seems to change daily and my chocolate peanut butter and pistachio ice cream waffle cone combo hit the spot.

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

Dinner was a Urban Stack Burger Lounge, which is actually owned and operated by the same people who own Taco Mamcita.  This was a burger joint with a vast selection of whiskey and beer.  They use local ingredients and have several specialty burgers, which is exactly why I eat at local places, variety and fresh ingredients.  I opted for the Good Day, Sunshine, while Susan and her sister went for a more traditional burger.  My burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, a white vinegar mayo, and cheddar.  It was big, tasty, and excellent, even if it was not the best burger of my life (that honor is still bestowed upon the Pharmacy in Nashville).  The fries were house cut and there was a homemade chilli ketchup as well.  Also, all of our burgers came with a side of house-made Fire and Ice pickles.  I ate all three orders of the pickles and had no regrets.

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Our breakfast at the Mayor’s Mansion was also delicious, even though I missed my all time favorite, French toast, on Sunday morning since I was running.  We also stopped at Publix on our way home because Susan loves the subs from there and she cannot get them here since Kroger has a grocery store monopoly in Memphis.  This is the second trip in a row where Publix subs have made an appearance and will be a sign of things to come on future trips to Publix friendly towns.

The Places We Visited

Susan & her new friend

Susan & her new friend

The biggest attraction in Chattanooga besides the mountains is probably the Tennessee Aquarium, which I had actually never been to.  The place is separated into two buildings, with one being the ocean side and one being the river side.  All three of us agreed that the ocean side was better mainly because of the penguins and despite the butterfly massacre.  The penguins were all over the place and very energetic.  They interacted with the spectators as much as the could behind all of that glass.  It makes me feel sad for the penguins here at the Memphis Zoo.  Side note, Susan and I are Memphis Zoo members which carries discounts at almost every zoo, museum, or aquarium in the US, especially the southeast, yet this aquarium was not one of them.  The butterfly massacre is in reference the nets in the butterfly room.  There were hundreds, maybe thousands of dead butterflies caught in the nets surrounding the ceiling.  It was kind of off-putting.  There was a gigantic tank that was four stories tall and all manners of ocean life in it.  There was also a couple of touch tanks where you could touch a shark or ray.  The river side would have been better the otter exhibit would have been open.  That is the major draw for that side of the aquarium, and without it, the place seemed kind of dark and empty.  Also, when we walked into the building, somewhat commented that I looked like Walter White.  I’m 31 and I was compared to a 51-year-old meth dealer with cancer, so that wasn’t great.

Entrance to the park

Entrance to the park

After our ice cream snack, we went to Point Park Battlefield, up on Lookout Mountain.  It is a national park that thankfully had reopened after the government shutdown.  It was a Civil War battle site and has a great view of the city.  There is a small museum, a couple of cannons, and several places to take in the view.  This was the only place we went on the mountain since it was so late in the afternoon.  We didn’t have a chance to go to Ruby Falls or the haunted cavern that was up there.  Apparently the haunted cavern is a top ten haunted house and I was the only one that wanted to go to it.

If you need this sign, you are in trouble

If you need this sign, you are in trouble