Monday, April 20, 2015

Back in the concrete jungle and "the takeaway"





Click here for the video slideshow of our European vacation.

Our Emirates flight back to NYC left Milan past 5 in the afternoon. It was an 8-hour flight. Our scheduled arrival time was around 8pm Eastern Standard Time. I could’ve easily chosen to sleep, but I had this surge of energy in wanting to write my blog. I ended up writing 2 of my blog entries while en route back to New York.

The 8-hour flight flew by so quickly and in no time, we were back on US soil. We breezed through immigration and customs. It was raining slightly when we arrived at JFK International Airport. We took a cab and headed towards Manhattan. For the next 24 hours, it is in Midtown West where we will be staying one last night and milking every single moment of our vacation. 
Since I’m a frequent Marriott customer, we were given an upgrade with a city view at the Fairfield. What does that mean? It had views of the Empire State Building and the New Yorker building. It was bit rainy that evening, the skyscrapers presented a different kind of beauty.

So Cal peeps in NYC - A few weeks before our Euro trip, I found out that our friends Edith and Ron Alangui (from Castaic Lake) and their family were headed for NY around the same time. We exchanged text messages and easily agreed on one thing. “You up for some halal?” That meant meeting up at The Halal Guys on W. 53rd St and 6th Ave. Since it was showering quite a bit, Ethan and I decided to take a train up to 50th St and crossed over towards 6th Avenue. We met Ron, Edith, and fam right outside Starbucks. I’ve been a fan of the The Halal Guys for so long that visiting their cart is a ritual whenever I visit the city. While eating our food, Ron and I got to talk about our trip, and I shared some tips for their NYC adventure and their future vacations. After meeting up with the Alanguis, Ethan and I decided to treat ourselves to a cab ride back to our hotel. When he and I got back to the hotel, we saw Nancy and Madison sleeping soundly and realized we best get our much needed rest.




Enjoying every New York minute
While I went to bed around 11:30pm, my jet lagged self woke up around 4:30am and I couldn’t go back to sleep anymore. Nancy got up shortly after I did. Our flight back to LA was scheduled to leave 9pm that evening, so we had around 12 more hours of play time in the city. Since we've all been to NY before, there was no need to visit the regular touristy spots. Instead, we had plans to try and get tickets to Finding Neverland, a brand new show on Broadway starring Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer. I watched this show 3 weeks prior, and truly enjoyed every bit of it. I just knew that we had to catch it as a family during this return trip back to the city. I actually had it all planned that when we flew back from Milan, we decided not to head back to LA, instead, spend one more day in New York on April 8th which was also our 15th Wedding Anniversary.

Before going to the theatre to get tickets, we headed downstairs to eat. Our hotel provided free hot breakfast. After eating, we walked 6 blocks and turned right on West 46th Street to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. There was already a line that formed which lessened the likelihood of us getting 4 tickets. When the box office opened at 10am, there was only 1 discounted rush ticket available. I wasn’t going to get it, but Ethan wanted the ticket, so there, we bought him the only ticket that was left. It was only $37 - front row orchestra. Tickets in the Orchestra sell up to $242 (insane!!!). At this time, only 1 out of 4 of us had a ticket to a matinee show.

15th Anniversary Wicked luck
We tried to get rush tickets to other shows but by 10:30am, the rush tickets for the matinee shows have all been sold out. We looked at our list, and Madison said she wanted to watch Wicked again. Nancy and I were on the fence about watching this show again. Madison watched this last summer in NYC when she won the lottery. But we decided to try our luck. Joining the lottery was the option we took. We signed up, entered our names, and by noon, the lottery winners were announced. The 5th one called - Edward Francisco (that’s me, in case you didn’t know hahahahaha). We were hoping 2 of us would get called which means we could get up to 4 tickets. But, we were happy with having 1 winner (2 tickets). And with me winning these 2 tickets, I gave the orchestra seats to Madison and Nancy.

So that now leaves me with no show to watch. I’ve been coming back to NYC so often  and have been fortunate to watch many of the shows playing on Broadway. I’ve really narrowed my choices to just watching the new shows. Nancy suggested I buy tickets to Finding Neverland so I could go with Ethan. While it was tempting to watch this great show again, I opted to watch this new show that’s playing next door to where Wicked is playing - Fun Home. Nancy went to the box office and got me rush tickets (2nd row orchestra). So there, all 4 of us had tickets to a matinee show!!!






Ramen State of Mind


It was now past 12 noon and the matinee shows were scheduled at 2pm. We only had one type of food in mind…RAMEN. Having been in Europe for the past 2 weeks, we had no access to ramen, or didn’t really look at places with ramen. Not sure I’d trust ramen in Italy to begin with :-) So, ramen was definitely part of the plan. Fortunately, it was just a matter of crossing 8th Ave and 51st Street for us to get to Ippudo West. I’ve eaten here many times and the location was perfect. Not too far from where we all had to be at 2pm. The temperature around the city was in the 40s, no rain, but a bit on the cold side. Ramen was the fix we were looking for and I was so glad it all worked out.





Matinees Divided
We all made it to our shows before the 2pm matinee. Ethan’s theatre was on W. 46th St. so I dropped him off to make sure he got there safely. Nancy and Madison got to the Gershwin Theatre just fine since it was so close to Ippudo West. I made my way inside the Circle in Square Theatre and found my seat right before the show started.


After the show, we all met up and Ethan couldn’t stop raving about Finding Neverland. He now understood why I wanted the family to watch this show. Now I can only hope to return back to NY and for the rest of the family to watch this show. 

We all met up with the Alanguis one more time. They were right outside waiting for the lottery for The Book of Mormon. We couldn't stay very long since we still had to gather our stuff and make our way to the airport. Shortly after 5pm, Ron texted me that they won lottery tickets to the show. Yes!!!

Finally headed home
It was finally time to get our luggage from our hotel. From our hotel, Nancy and the kids went ahead and took a cab towards Penn Station where they caught a train towards Newark Airport. I, on the other hand, took a bus towards Secaucus. I left my luggage and laptop at a Marriott hotel Secaucus before flying to Europe. They were kind enough to hold my luggage for me for 2 weeks. Once I obtained my belongings, the hotel even offered to take me to the train station on a shuttle ride. I love you, Marriott!


I met up with the rest of the family at Newark Airport by 6:30pm. Check in was a breeze. The best part, I was upgraded to First Class, while the rest of the family had choice seats(roomier seats). That was a great way of ending this European vacation.

The Takeaway
When I wrote my blog entries during our trip to Maui, I ended the blog with a takeaway which basically summarized my lessons-learned from the entire experience. For this European trip, there were quite a few takeaways.

Go see the world - I mentioned this earlier. We made a conscientious decision to "just do it", to pull the trigger when the opportunity knocks. Things will fall in to place, and that's exactly what happened. We made a decision to try and visit new places and we did. No resolutions...just decisions.

Pack light - I was gone from home for 3 weeks (including my 1 week of work back East). I survived with 1 carry-on and a backpack. I didn't bring everything I needed. Since coming back from our vacation, a few friends were still amazed that we only had a little carry-on and a backpack per person. It can be done. It wasn't our first time doing this (traveling light). Anything we missed, we were able to purchase them wherever we went. As long as we had access to a washer (even with no dryer in Europe), we were able to do our laundry with no problem.



Gotta love hard shell luggage and spinners - And no, I'm not thinking about the spinning hubcaps or wheel covers, but the spinners on our hard case luggage. Since we traveled to places mixed with sunny and rainy days, we didn't have to worry about our belongings getting wet since our luggage had a hard shell. The spinners also helped in pulling or pushing the luggage wherever we went. There's this new trend on a luggage, they look lighter, flexible, and meet the size criteria. I gotta look in to that some more.

Walking shoes - I need better shoes. My feet were screaming for help, and I finally listened after being in Europe for nearly a week before I bought a new pair. I ended up throwing my Doc Maartens in Paris. Those shoes were my go-to shoes when I walk around in NYC, but Europe demanded much more walking from me (and I should've know better). Note to self: find better walking shoes that's good for all occasions (casual or semi-casual).





Apartments vs. Hotels - Since coming back, lots of friends also inquired about our apartment rental experience. We rented different apartments for our party of 8 (or 9 when we were in Paris). We had bedrooms for our group, with access to our own washing machine, kitchen, and private bathrooms. Being in one apartment also allowed all of us to stay together, and we didn't have to worry about meeting up in a central location since we all stayed in one place.  It was such a big gamble to base my decision on simply reading the reviews. But it all paid off. To be perfectly honest, I was simply content with a bed to sleep in and hot shower.


But to have 2-3 bedrooms with 1-3 bathrooms, WiFi, washing machine, a decent kitchen...we couldn't have asked for a better set-up. Thanks to rental sites such as AirBNB and VRBO. We used them before in Maui and Mammoth, and I'm sure I'll be using them again in the future.

 

So what if I don't speak French and Italian - Language was not a barrier. English is still a universal language, and with the help of a smart phone, I was able to bridge the language gap with anyone I spoke with in France and Italy. 

If all else fails, just ask - that's exactly how we survived. We weren't gun-shy in approaching a stranger to ask for directions.




Talk to the locals - whenever we arrived in a new city, we talked to our cab driver or apartment owner/manager (for instance), and asked for local places they themselves would go to for lunch or dinner. Their advise - simply invaluable. 

Take public transportation - for the most part, we took lots of rides using the subway (metro rides), local trains, high speed trains, trams, shuttles, buses, and a few times using a cab. We had to find the best way to take unlimited rides using the combination of all the rides available to us. We were given maps which we used to get around the city. We could've rented a car (which would've been another adventure). Safety using public transportation was always a question, and we were fortunate that we felt safe in all of the places we went to during this trip.

Use the right credit card/s - Know what your card can do for you. Some cards give you rewards or points for miles or cash back. Before we flew, we made sure that the cards we carried had no foreign transaction fees. Those fees could easily add up to 3% per transaction. Use a card with Smart Chip technology. More merchants outside the US are only accepting cards with Smart Chip. It is also for your security since it is harder for thieves to get data from your card.

No Itinerary, no problem- well, this one is quite debatable. We had a basic idea where (which city) we'd be visiting, and had a basic clue of places to visit. However, we didn't have an exact itinerary, we had an inkling as to what we wanted to see in the cities we visited. It was too far fetched to visit everything, so we went by what was accessible to us via transportation or by going on foot. We were on our own time. We didn't have to rush per se. AAnything we missed, we decided to try and go to those places the next day.

Cell Phone Usage - I, of all people, did not take the time to find out the cell phone usage I'd be needing in Europe. We all survived using public WiFi when we were out and about. Lots of restaurants and coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi, so during our break times, we had a little something to eat while we surfed the net. Special thanks to Gemma, she lent me one of her spare cell phones which I used for basic phone calls to the property owner. But other than that, we didn't have the luxury of having access to a full-serviced smartphone....and yet, we survived.

You're on vacation, have fun - that's my final takeaway. It was okay to get lost. It was okay to not know the language. Be spontaneous, it's all part of the adventure. I'm so glad that we were able to experience this with our family and friends we met along the way. I simply can't wait for the next adventure. We've got our passports ready and are already on the lookout for the next trip. Where to? Only time will tell. In the meantime, thanks for reading along and for following our journey. So long...au revoir....arrivederci.
 








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