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My Favourite Things to Do in New York City (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post, I offered a list of my favourite attractions in New York City, but I quickly ran out of space! For that reason, here is part 2 of “My Favourite Things to Do in New York City”:

Feinstein’s/54 Below
Before every trip, I make a point of checking out the event calendar for Feinstein’s/54 Below. Located in the lower level of what was the legendary Studio 54 night club, Feinstein’s/54 Below “offers an unforgettable New York nightlife experience, combining performances by Broadway’s best with world class dining in an elegant setting”. Our first experience at the club was seeing a later performance of the group The Skivvies whose members perform their diverse musical set of pop and Broadway tunes in their undies. It was a brilliantly entertaining show, enjoyed over desserts and drinks, which seemed like a perfect way to end a busy day of sightseeing and entertainment.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Once your itinerary has been filled with Broadway shows, if you are still craving more performing arts, Lincoln Center would be your next destination. As their web site explains: “The 16.3-acre Lincoln Center complex, the world’s leading performing arts center, is home to the 11 resident arts organizations that represent the highest standards of excellence in symphony, opera, chamber music, theater, dance, film, and arts education.” The Center’s calendar of events offers a steady rotation of shows and events that are certain to appeal to everyone’s appetite for the arts.

If you have a chance, I would also suggest taking a guided tour of the beautiful campus for a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of this iconic venue.

Bus Tours
When I visited New York for the first time almost twenty years ago, I think we were very smart in incorporating two bus tours into our itinerary, one tour of lower Manhattan and one of upper Manhattan. As a first time visitor with only a limited amount of time, we were able to cover a lot more ground by bus than if we had done it on foot. While the sights were all viewed from the bus window, it still offered us a great appetizer and the opportunity to figure out which sights peaked our curiosity to see up close in the next visits. Ask your hotel’s concierge or front desk team which bus tours they would recommend and to help you pick one that will go by the points of interest that would interest you most.

Mike’s New York City Tours
I have been a fan of Project Runway since the very first episode, and after my first bus tour of NYC breezed through the garment district, I knew I had to go back and have a closer look. In Googling garment district tours, I found “Mike’s New York City Tours”.

Born and raised in New York City, Mike Kaback knows the city inside and out. As Mike’s Web site describes: “With over 35 years in the Garment Center, 10 years in NYC real estate, 17+ years as a tour guide and having lived in many various parts of the city, Mike has an unique perspective on the people, the history and the landscape.” I was delighted with the tour that took us by some of the landmarks associated with Project Runway (like Parsons and Mood) but also offered some historical context to the garment industry’s origins in New York, its evolution and the people who worked there over the years.

Check out his complete list of walking tours as he offers tours of landmarks in several different parts of the city.

Shopping
When it comes to shopping, the possibilities in New York City are endless.
Fans of the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” won’t want to miss a stop at Macy’s flagship department store, also a historic landmark, on (…you guessed it) 34th Street!

For designer labels on a budget, a visit to Century 21 has been on my to-do list for several trips to New York City. Set aside some time and some patience for the careful perusal of the racks of deals!

For a shop ‘til you drop experience, I would recommend a stroll down 5th Avenue. Home to an impressive list of popular department stores, shops, cafés, restaurants and attractions including the Guggenheim Museum, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building and Rockefeller Center/Plaza, you could easily plan a whole trip exploring just 5th Avenue, and still not see it all. Wear comfortable shoes!

Museums
If your trip to New York City is hampered by bad weather, what a great opportunity to make the most of your time indoors and check out any of the wonderful museums the city has to offer.
The largest art museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, would be my first stop. With its permanent collection and exhibitions spanning all cultures and time periods over 5000 years, the Met is a great opportunity to discover the beauty of the works on display and of their relevance in understanding that even across time and cultures, we have more in common than what makes us different.

Check out this great link for the “15 Pieces You Have to See at The Met”

On my last visit, I discovered the Whitney Museum of American Art, combining an impressive permanent collection and exhibitions that showcase the beautiful works of 3,000 American artists. Every work of art was like a snapshot from the artists’ lives, whispering their personal stories and perspectives. Touring a museum like the Whitney is a far more subtle way of not just learning about history, but in understanding it on a human level and letting it resonate within my own point of view.

When my partner visited the Tenement Museum and came back with glowing recommendations, I had to check it out! The Museum’s web site describes itself as “We tell the stories of immigrants who started their lives anew on Manhattan’s Lower East Side between the 19th and 21st centuries through the recreated apartment and businesses of real families in our two historic tenement buildings.” After taking in one tour, I was sharing my partner’s enthusiasm for the fascinating recreations that illustrated the diametrically opposing perspectives through which they lived: the hope for a better life but also, the harsh living conditions of their new homes and the difficult working conditions through which they endured on the road to attaining their dreams.

What has been mind-blowing for me has been that after a few trips to New York City and the stories that I picked up along the way through the shows, walking tours and museum visits, everything started fitting together like puzzle pieces. All of these threads of stories started collectively forming the brilliant fabric that makes New York City the unique and inspirational destination that it is.

This magnificent convergence of historical and cultural richness was the epiphany that helped me understand why I love New York so much and why I keep coming back to discover more.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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My Favourite Things to Do in New York City

Whether you love theatre, music, sports, fashion, museums, food or shopping, as a travel destination New York City has it all… and more!

On our most recent Broadway pilgrimage, I noticed that we have some sights that we return to, time and time again, just because we like them and it takes some of the guesswork out of trip planning. When friends ask us for advice on NYC sightseeing, these are the ideas we wholeheartedly recommend. Our suggestions have often become favourites for them as well.

For this travel blog, rather than walk you through our latest trip, step by step, I offer a short list of our personal favourites that I would recommend to any close friend looking for advice on points of interest.

Broadway Theatre
In Ottawa, we are very fortunate that we have many local theatre companies and stages offering a variety of productions to feed our appetite for theatre. But when in New York, a Broadway show is a must-see. Live Broadway shows are the Rolls Royce of theatrical experiences.

With the multitude of shows being offered, there is something for everyone, featuring brilliant actors, singers and dancers who are all at the top of their game.

Broadway tickets can sometimes get expensive, but there are ways to make the theatrical experience more affordable, whether through same-day tickets at the TKTS booth or to get on promotional email distribution lists such as TelechargeOffers.com and Playbill.com when you are planning your trip. Continue reading

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When a Cell Phone Ruins the Movie

I was at the movie theatre one night, on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, when Dame Judi Dench was in the middle of a long pause, about to utter with masterful precision the words that will earn her next Academy Award nomination… when I was suddenly blinded by a bright blue screen, from the idiot in front of me, checking her phone.

Needless to say, I was devastated to have been dragged out of the precious moment where I completely escaped my own life, to live vicariously through the characters of this cinematic masterpiece. I felt robbed.

I leaned over and whispered sternly, “That’s very distracting!” The idiot turned back and gave me a glare like she was the offended one.

Are you kidding me?

After she turned around, I offered her my look of scorn and severe disdain with one eyebrow raised and one lowered, accompanied by a middle-finger salute, a gesture I reserve for the rare few who crack through my calm exterior and get my blood instantly boiling. With that done, I was able to let it go and reconnect with the movie.

I don’t know why but lately, it seems that every visit to a theatre has at least one person checking their phone during the movie which is completely unfair to the rest of the movie patrons.

A movie theatre is a place where people go to escape from day-to-day reality. It’s a place to forget one’s troubles, to get inspired and to be taken away to a different world. Continue reading

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Inspired by the Creativity of Others

A few days ago, I attended a concert at the National Arts Centre, here in Ottawa, to see The Tenors perform with the National Arts Centre Orchestra conducted by Jack Everly.

Much like all of the Pops series concerts I have seen in recent years, the concert brought me on a roller coaster of emotions, between goose bump moments of arias and their triumphant crescendos and moments where I felt a tad verklempt, hearing favourite songs performed live in brilliant new arrangements.

Throughout great performances like that, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do they do it?” How much of it is natural aptitude and how much is hard work? How many thousands of hours each performer put into their craft over the years, to become one with their instruments and to make it look so easy? How hard did each one have to work to achieve this level of proficiency, to produce such beauty that can elicit such strong emotions from spectators?

This inner monologue replays in my head again and again whenever I feel deeply inspired, whether it’s at a concert, in a museum, in a theatre, reading a book or watching a great movie. It’s like a vortex of creativity, swirling around, reaching out and stirring up my own artistic momentum to keep doing what I love doing, keep practicing, work hard and don’t let go.

I sometimes pause and wonder if I will ever get to the same degree of skillfulness and versatility in writing as someone who can pick up an instrument and play a song, just like that. Then I think to myself that I have been known to pull a rabbit or two out of a hat on a few occasions.

Whether it’s a blog post that I was able to commit to paper in one sitting in under two hours (it doesn’t happen often, but it does), a blog post that successfully reached out and really struck a chord with readers, or writing a piece at work that was exactly what was requested, offering the right words at the right time, and being able to do so under crazy time constraints. I reassure myself that I am on my way. Continue reading

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My Take-Aways from Awards Season

Oscar and me1Ever since I knew I wanted to become a writer, whenever I watched The Golden Globes, the Academy Awards, The Emmy Awards (Prime Time and Daytime) or the Tony Awards, I always found myself walking away feeling inspired that one day that could be me.

When I hear writers’ acceptance speeches of humble beginnings, late starts in life or how a unique little story or unique way of telling a story became the object of much attention, I really do feel validated that there is purpose and potential for a budding writer like myself.

I do not delude myself into thinking that my turn WILL come at the awards podium, I think the odds of that are equivalent to winning the lottery. But I would like to think that my imagination, my creativity, my ideas and my story telling style combined with consistency and persistence, are the foundation for writing stories that will resonate. Where it goes from there, nobody knows. Hope for the best, expect the worst, and hopefully land somewhere in the middle.

This year in particular, the word “diversity” has been a recurring theme, appearing in speeches, editorials and reviews which struck a particularly deep chord with me.

As writers, I think we all have an innate fear, “What if no one is interested. What if no one reads it.” If the appetite for diversity is as strong as it seems to be, I take that as my cue and as my challenge to dig deeply for the stories that can matter and that can resonate.

The appetite for diversity is a sign to me that people want to see themselves in a story, someone to relate to, someone who has felt Continue reading

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A Relaxing Getaway to Niagara-on-the-Lake

Oban Inn GardenWith the Canadian dollar in its weakened state against the American greenback, Canadians might be looking for travel options closer to home. In that same fluctuation, Canadian destinations become more affordable and more attractive to our American friends. A unique travel option for both to consider is Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Located in Southern Ontario, along the shores of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake was the original Capital of Upper Canada from 1792 to 1797 and the location of several battles in the War of 1812.

As Niagara-on-the-Lake had been on our bucket list for some time, John and I decided to check it out in August of last year, in time for the famous Shaw Festival. Regular readers of my blog know that we have a voracious appetite for theatre and we were absolutely delighted with Shaw, a theatre company that draws its inspiration from the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

Upon arrival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, we checked in at our new home-away-from-home, the Oban Inn. The staff at the front desk ran the operation like a finely oiled machine, always greeting guests as they were arriving or leaving, generously offering tourist information on the fly, while still maintaining the calm and serenity of the Oban Spa vibe. Our room was spotlessly clean, very comfortable and very quiet.

After our long drive from Ottawa, we were starved. Our first stop was the Oban Inn’s beautiful dining room for dinner. I had already called ahead to ensure that they were well equipped to handle a gluten sensitivity, and the serving staff was indeed well-prepared.

Our first Shaw festival theatre experience was a winner, right out of the gate, with the legendary musical, Sweet Charity at the Festival Theatre. We were charmed by Julie Martell’s sweet portrayal of Charity, and were mesmerized by the gorgeous costumes, sets, lights, songs and dance. The entire company was impressive in that performance and kept us wanting more.

Oban Breakfast

Our breakfast tray at the Oban Inn dining room

Our Tuesday evening concluded with a special treat at Il Gelato Di Carlotta. Their wide array of tasty gelato won us over immediately. Even though we could get a few different scoops in one cup, there were just too many flavours to try in one visit. We concluded we must return… and we did! (Note: gluten-free cones are available)

Wednesday morning we returned to the Oban Inn’s dining room to start our day with a simple yet elegant breakfast. The big picture window overlooking the garden offers a beautiful view and a lovely opportunity to slowly open one eye at a time as the caffeine kicks in and the brain cells engage, gently easing into the day rather than the hustle and bustle of the daily grind back home. We were starting to feel the vacation vibe setting in.

We decided to take a stroll down Queen Street and check out the shops. We were very impressed by Continue reading

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