30 August 2012

New York City: Empire State of Mind

NYC, there's no other place like it! Bright lights and that big city feeling are all rolled into one. So many things to see and do, where does one begin? A city so big it should be declared a state in its own right, this gargantuan city keeps on giving me more! I am seriously living a dream here in the East Coast of the U.S.A! New York City, show me what you've got! I'm ready B!

New York City has many different sides, she's multi-talented! I have the immense privilege to live very close to this mesmerising place! The approach to Times Square by foot is out-of-this-word, there's just no other way to explain the bright lights and the constant sea of hustle and bustle as New York City's epicentre loves life as one! I just didn't think this place was real, well it's very real and is one place in New York City that gave me an 'Empire State of Mind!' This part of NYC is a kaleidoscope of colour, beaming down throughout the streets that surround Time Square. Yes, it's a tourists paradise, its no secret that everyone wants to be part of the NYC vibe! Times Square is famous for its towering adverts that look amazing after sunset. Yass!

Times Square's also home to NYC's Theatre-land, London has the 'West End' but NYC has 'Broadway!' Shows like 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' and 'Evita' are just two of the many shows that are currently wowing audiences at the moment. Like London's 'West End', Broadway is constantly unveiling new musicals, for 2014 Aladdin and Kinky Boots will be premiering! Word on the street is that Cyndi Lauper will be involved with the new Kinky Boots Musical production! I have a sickly feeling that I won't be able to see half of these new upcoming new shows, but I'm going to make damn sure I get to at least one Broadway show this year! It's true that Times Square brings it big, giving me a showstopper during my first visit! Call me crazy, surely NYC isn't all about bright lights and craziness? Broadway, I'll be back!

Now, I don't have a head for heights but that didn't stop me seeing a view from up above! The Empire State Building offered me a bird's eye view of New York City and it only costs $25.00. The Empire State Building is located close to New York City's Penn Station and 6th Avenue, this iconic landmark made me weak at the knees. I'm not fond of heights but was a once in a lifetime experience that simply had to be done. Taking on the Empire State Building on a clear afternoon we had maximum exposure to all of the sites, we had a bird's eye view of the Statue of Liberty! It was quite bizarre because from the top the yellow taxi cabs all looked like busy little ants zipping through the streets! Reuniting my Disney pal and former colleague was amazing, me and Ritika took on that skyscraper without thinking about the dizzying heights! So far I have been blessed, NYC has showed me so much! At times its been mad!

Picture the scene that's captured above for NYC is a maze of streets and neighbourhoods that challenge each and every local and tourist alike. Like any provincial city that's got the world looking at its every move New York City keeps it real just about every day of the week, well multiple that by fifty two because NYC is nonstop! For me grabbing a bite to eat should never feel like a task! Taking the subway downtown from the tourist traps to Chinatown NYC for a unforgettable sight, I found out for myself that there's so much more to that Oriental part of town! I had no idea what Vietnamese food was! The movies had lied to me, looking past that shade I was living within NYC's Oriental corner! I strayed away from the guide book by taking a chance on Downtown because New York City keeps it real, there's just nothing that this captivating and energetic city hides from its residences and visitors! Yes, I love New York City with all my heart, there's nowhere else I would rather be right now!

Perched on Liberty Island is the world renowned Statue of Liberty. That formidable Lady of Liberty waves her torch over the Hudson River, guiding the many vessels that cross the waters throughout the night. Honestly, the Lady of Liberty is a formidable figure, in my opinion she looks every inch the 'Glamazon'. Just across the water is Ellis Island, once home to New York City's largest Immigration screening centre. Ellis Island holds many exhibits that depict the struggles and journeys that people of the past made to reach the United States of America. I understood how New York has developed into a city that is such a melting pot of sub-cultures and variety making NYC a tough place to find the best international food and culture in one place! Snap!

Entering a film location for one of the 1980's most iconic films that was based in the city. Madonna's breakthrough film 'Desperately Seeking Susan' was created for me in real-time! Battery Park, a place that made its way into Madonna's movie that painted its background around Battery Park, that's why the film in-question looks sensational. I loved my afternoon at Battery Park, kidding myself that Madge would rock up to the park and be waiting for her date but life is life so I didn't see Susan. Forget Hyde Park because that Downtown district was only a heartbeat away from the shores of the Hudson River. New York City has turned my life upside down, it gives me a place to run to on my days because Newark is downright down shady! Keep it classy NYC, or keep it whatever you want to darling! Go!

New York, New York! 

Joseph Harrison

20 August 2012

Lee Avenue: Jewish Brooklyn

Brooklyn, New York has many different communities that make up a rich tapestry of cultures and backgrounds. One very individual part of Brooklyn is the Hasidic Jewish community, keeping themselves busy with their religion and home-making they pose to be a very closed part of New York. With that said, I felt the need to observe the goings-on of their Kosher way of life. 

To be honest I only had a faint idea of where I was meant to be going, but fear not I found my way in the end. Taking the L Subway train to Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg I was lead to be amazed at what I was about to witness. After walking the length and breadth of Williamsburg. One particular street sign became clear to my vision. Lee Avenue, my intended destination had been found finally. Why choose a street so particular as Lee Avenue? I had researched before about Jewish New York and this avenue had looked very interesting on Google Earth, quintessentially Kosher you could say?

You might ask why on earth would I want to stray out the confides of Manhattan? I tell you something! I like to push the boundaries and within reason like to see places that aren't advertised in the tourist guides. Hasidic Jewish culture interests me because these people are so devoted to their religion and only trust people within their tight knit community. I feel like I was drawn to this part of Brooklyn, NY for a reason, I just loved the restricted feeling of this neighbourhood for these people put a lot of effort into not mixing with other communities in Brooklyn, let alone the rest of NYC! My paternal ancestors were of the Jewish faith, so you could say that's where my fascination with all things Jewish enters this equation? I don't think my ancestors were a part of the Hasidic way of life but they were Jewish never-the-less. 

Lee Avenue oozed a feeling of cohesion and togetherness, the shops with their Hebrew signs and the many religious men passing by dressed in their black and white attire, donning their 'payot' which literally translate to 'ringlets'. I had made it to Lee Avenue finally, I was immersed in the centre of the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Williamsburg, well one part of Williamsburg because I don't think its all Jewish in Brooklyn. For what I was about to see would be more realistic than a television show I had previously seen about this part of Brooklyn? I know I saw exactly what I set out to, Williamsburg's Jewish sect impressed me much!

There was no McDonald's for me to have some lunch at for everything was strictly Kosher so I just made the best of my current surroundings. I took a breather I discovered 'Frankel's Kosher Supermarket' that had everything a good Hasidic Jewish person could find on their food shopping list. One thing that I saw in 'Frankel's' was that the women took care of the domestic side of things. Were the Jewish people a little work shy? No, I say this because the businesses along Lee Avenue were simple but to me they looked very Jewish from an outsiders point of view. The many Kosher bakeries, clothes shops, Kosher food stores and Kosher Butchers had a very big Jewish presence, more to the Hasidic way of things. 

Babies, babies and more babies! The Hasidic Jewish way of life focuses on families bringing multiple children into their community. Being a check-in agent dealing with large Hasidic Jewish families can be quite testing because there's always at least five children minimum in each family, its all fun and games! So, one thing is sure that the birth rate within the Jewish community in Williamsburg must be sky-rocketing as every woman that I passed by on Lee Avenue had a buggy with a newborn baby, occasionally some of these women had baby and a toddler with them. I say whatever makes these people happy, if it means the more babies the better then that's fine with me! Aside from the growing population the Hasidic Jewish mothers looked very sophisticated with their black cardigans and skirts. Covering their hair to satisfy the Kosher law with either a 'Tichel' which is a 'Headscarf' or either wearing a 'Sheitel' which is a 'Wig'. No conventional high street brands for these ladies as modesty is key, but the Hasidic Jewish way of life obviously doesn't impair the women's fashion sense as I saw there was a number of wig and clothing boutiques, all abiding by Jewish law. 

Some Jewish surnames can be easily recognisable, four surnames were plastered across shop signs. Surnames like Rosenfield, Schwartz, Schreiber and Stein were seen proudly advertising the Kosher businesses along Lee Avenue. I loved the hardware store called 'Tiv Tov' something like the Jewish answer to the all odd bits and bobs, there's definitely one of those shops on Ferry Street selling the same stuff. As I made my way down Lee Avenue that little bit further I couldn't help notice that English wasn't the first language to be  heard, the local Hasidic Jewish people definitely love their Yiddish! To the ear Yiddish sounds quite interesting to listen to! I know that schlepping all the way to Jewish Brooklyn was worth every wrong turn to eventually find the captivating Lee Avenue. This just shows I'm not a schmuck whatsoever! 

Oh Vey! Everything's So Kosher !!

Joseph Harrison 

4 August 2012

Golden Virginia

Another Day, Another State! Yes, I have been clocking up the mileage when it comes to discovering another new American state. Virginia was no exception, a definite surprise if nothing else. Whilst away taking some time out in Washington, D.C I looked at my tourist map to naively discover that another brand new state lay undiscovered just over the Potamac River. So here's to visiting and loving my tenth American state!

At first I did not have a clue that another state was so close to where I was staying in Washington, D.C. Without further ado I checked out of my Marriott hotel and took the first Metro bound for the Pentagon. I know I have a habit of visiting unusual places, but the Pentagon and the Pentagon Memorial Site were well worth the visit. I wanted to take the chance to visit such a landmark that has experienced such terrible sites from the tragedies that took place on September 11th, 2001. It's forbidden for any photos to be taken in and around the Pentagon so it was really difficult for me to abide by this rule, how can I be the intrepid blog explorer if I can't capture the location!? Never-the-less it was a very sobering experience to see another location that was blighted by the attacks around September 11th. On a positive note it was nice to see that the memorial site was a peaceful place that remembered the victims with dignity and respect. 

You ask why I called this blog 'Golden Virginia?' For one reason my day in Virginia was golden and also 'Golden Virginia' was one of my Great-Grandad Tom's preferred choices of tobacco. I'm sure if Tommy A read about this reference to the blog title he would find it amusing, yes I'm very sure. So I guess this blog is dedicated to my late Great-Grandad Tom! 

Taking a step back in time by visiting the waterfront of Alexandria. I totally trusted the Metro system to take me to another interesting place as I simply had no idea of what sights I would be seeing that day. After walking down King St. for a little while I discovered the banks of the 'Potomac River.' In actual fact I was facing three states, standing in Virginia and overlooking the borders of Maryland and District of Columbia. I loved the small town feeling of King St. that set Alexandria apart from the large scale and sterile feel of the Pentagon, considering that it was only a few stops away from this lovely sight. The weather was a complete scorcher by the time I was a the waterfront, it would soon be time for a refreshment break before pushing ahead further. Taking enough time to admire the small-town charm that this lovely place had to offer before making my way to the next phase of my Virginia discovery day. I even saw an ice cream parlor that was called 'Pop's' that pleased me because I call my paternal grandfather Pops! I do now wish I had waited a little bit longer to take this trip as the Nandos restaurant on King St. had not opened yet, but how was I to know such a thing before I decided to even visit this town?! So far, so very very good. I don't think my Virginia experience was over just yet, so let's push on because soon enough Newark would be calling me back to work!

As my Virginia adventure unfolded just that little bit further I was hungry for more to see and to do, being ever mindful of the time was something that needed to be considered. My Bolt Bus back to Newark Penn Station would be leaving that evening from Union Station at 6:15pm. I think its time for a change of scenery then I suppose. Zipping back towards District of Columbia but still staying in Arlington County, VA I decided to take it easy by taking a stroll around the Arlington National Cemetery. It was a first for me as I've never gone out of my way visit a graveyard. I guess that a visit to this side of town would be on the cards from the moment I saw the sign for Arlington County the previous day as I was making my way to Georgetown, I just knew I was meant to be seeing something special this side of the Potomac River. One thing I did see was the gravestone of John F Kennedy, talk about a random celebrity discovery. I don't think I'll be making a habit of visiting cemeteries in the future as its not the most happiest of places to encounter whilst on holiday or even in general terms. I suppose in some kind of way the feeling of the cemetery cleared my head and left me with a feeling of calm and serenity.

Virginia You Are So Golden! My Golden Virginia! 

Joseph Harrison 

1 August 2012

Welcome to Washington D.C

Washington, D.C welcomes the world to experience the true 'Capitol City' of the United States of America. This regal city is also home to the Obama's, so for that reason I especially wanted to be part of the Obamarama vibe! Washington, D.C welcomed me with open arms and showed me a superb weekend. Honestly, this city is truly amazing! Anyway, lets proceed onwards!

During my weekend in Washington, D.C the weather was blessed with some truly beautiful sunshine. I had one objective in mind, to seek the jewels of this city in only one day. Just after 9 am my tourist map guided me to the home of the Obama's, obviously their residence had to be The White House. Might I add that the O's have a formidable abode that one was very envious of. As I gazed at the pillars of The White House I could not help feeling slightly intimidated by the security around the perimeter fences, security is security it has to be done. Looking back it's got to be another one of those moments where I had to pinch myself. Nonetheless, I can say that I have been to the residence of Mrs Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America and true 'Glamazon!' Things had been hotting up at work so I booked a cheeky little trip down to the presidential paradise of the USA. Getting to grips with somewhere new sounded great to me!

Living on the North East coast of America makes room for a serious amount of travelling, don't think a whole of dollar was spent during this trip but I have to treat myself from time to time. Washington D.C. seemed to be the choice of the month for I wanted to see somewhere new. Packing up my backpack I made my way to Newark Penn Station for my Bolt Bus ride down to Washington D.C. I passed through some pretty scary places that must of been the ghettos of Baltimore, I must make a point of visiting that city before I return to England next January! Arriving at my hotel was a blessing, I had splashed out to stay at the Marriott Metro Center Washington, D.C. My stresses from work had all disappeared for my choice of hotel was a very good pick if not a little above my price range but we have to treat ourselves sometimes! Long live Obamarama!

Speeding my way through the historical delights of this spotlessly clean city. Next on to the Washington Monument for a quick breather, not taking too much of a break for I wanted to ensure that all sides of this amazing city were viewed. I was amazed by the amount of signs that were dotted around the city, I appreciated this very much. As pictured to the right, The Lincoln Memorial proved to be a popular choice for the countless number of coach tourists. Personally, it posed to be another attraction that had a special significance which is always good in my opinion. I won't lie their was a mild amount of construction work going on at that time, but to be honest it didn't ruin my experience. So much culture and history packed into one morning, now that's what I like to see.

Washington, D.C. helped me find some inner peace as the last the few days had been quite trying to say the least. The temperatures in Newark, New Jersey had risen significantly so made getting to work really quite uncomfortable, plus my two aunts had not long gave birth to newborn babies so I had a lot deal with on my own. I was pleasantly surprised by D.C's open National Mall that welcomed me with what felt like open arms, allowing me to go forth to discover the wonders that stood before me. Washington, D.C. definitely made me very happy indeed! 

Taking a unplanned detour to the nearby area of Georgetown, this place opened my eyes to a whole new side of Washington, D.C. As the mid-afternoon sun shone throughout the city I was greeted by a site that made me feel less like I was in America. Georgetown is blessed with a quaint canal-side area, only housing one narrow boat it transported me back home for merely a few seconds. Georgetown also featured a number of luxury boutiques, all of which were out of my price range. I was in a state of mild shock as I was only a ten minute walk away from the grand Lincoln Memorial, how could of this been so close? One place that stood out for me was a restaurant that was called 'Paolo's' as my friend shares the same name.

I had made the best choice to visit this city as Newark is an interesting place to reside in, I love that place but Washington, D.C. injected some history and elegance into my life during my weekend away from Newark. One thing that I loved about Washington, D.C was that its public transport system was superb. I used the Metro network extensively to access certain parts of The National Mall due to its size. In saying that this city can be accessed by foot easily as the tourist signage is perfectly placed around the best hot-spots. I felt at peace whilst in Washington, D.C because it was a time that I was stressed with work and also my dear friends Thomas and Paolo were soon to make their departure home back to England, this trip restored some calm in my life.

As my day in Washington, D.C progressed, the more I saw of this city the more I loved it. My next stop had to be the U.S Capitol Building. I remember the times that ITV News used to go live to Washington, D.C and this magnificent building was always displayed within the live link, well I had the chance to see it for myself. Taking a little bit of time to relax in the grounds of this building I couldn't miss the countless sea of coach-makers making their way across the grass front to snap a shot of this iconic building, you could say I was also  being 'typically tourist' during that moment?! My day in Washington, D.C. had taken all the energy I had so I thought it was best to retire back to my hotel to conserve my energy for the next day as I wanted to see the Pentagon Memorial in the nearby state of Virginia. Little did I know that it was the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games that evening so I planned to spend that evening being lazy by watching the television in my hotel room as that would be quite a luxury as I don't have a television in Newark. 

Walking back to my hotel I discovered the Barnes and Noble bookstore, taking some time I had a browse through the magazines as I had been lucky enough to find my Attitude Magazines in Philadelphia in April. I successful found the July copy and bought it immediately even asking a store assistant if there were any back issues available as I was having trouble finding my favourite magazine stateside. Bring on the Olympics I say! Domino's Pizza and NBC dominated my evening, so that suited me just fine! All in all I would definitely take advise anyone to spend some time in this presidential city for its a melting-pot full of cultural and historical wonders. So pack up your troubles and experience the amazing city that is Washington, D.C!

Be Typically Tourist in Washington, D.C

Joseph Harrison