New York City: The Empire City

With all my trips to the States for work, it’s a wonder that I would ever go down there for fun. Well, last week that’s exactly what I did.

I have some family in New York and so we decided to drive down there on a long weekend to visit them. My cousin lives in a suburb outside of New York City so we spent most of our time there, but we made time to go into the city and check it out.

Grand Central Concourse
Grand Central Station, like Union Station but bigger and grander in every way.

I’ve been to New York City before but the last time I went was a year or two after 9/11. I don’t really remember that trip that much but I do remember driving past the site of the attack and remember seeing a void where the towers used to be.

I remember 9/11 quite clearly. I was a bit too young to understand the gravity of the situation but as I grew up and got a bit older, I realized that that event honestly changed the world. So many things are different because of the events of that day and despite not being American, it’s probably the most consequential event that occurred in my lifetime so far.

So, I made it a goal to make sure I visited the site this time around.

One World Trade Center
From the ashes, a phoenix.

It was kind of a weird feeling being there. I’ve been to other disaster sites before, like the Hiroshima Peace Park, and I remember how calm and soothing it felt there. The 9/11 Memorial, on the other hand, felt a bit eerie.

I think that that’s probably a result of the design of the place. You’re in the middle of a giant city with supertall skyscrapers and you just see two holes in the ground; water pouring into the void.

When I wasn’t by the pools and was just somewhere in the park, it almost felt like a regular park. But when I was near the pools and could hear the water, there was just this odd somber feel to it.

The North Pool
The North Pool.

It was made even weirder because my cousin was saying beforehand how she knew a person that died in the attack. The names of those that have died are etched into the sides of the pools and we were going to look for his, but we didn’t have to look far because it was literally right in front of me.

We were all so surprised that his name was literally right there. That was so strange.

The South Pool
The South Pool.

To me, the visit to the memorial was the most important part of my trip. In a way it felt like a mini pilgrimage to just go there. But as far as time goes, we didn’t actually spend that much time there.

I mean, New York City is a huge city with a lot to see and do. When you’re there on such a short amount of time, of course you have to go and hit up all the major sites.

Times Square is one of the biggest and so we made sure to go check it out. It’s kind of a neat place but it honestly kinda confuses me as well. It’s really just a rectangular public space with.. a bunch of ads?

One Times Square
I had no idea they left the ball up there during the year.

The atmosphere there was quite touristy and festive but for the most part I couldn’t really figure out what was so interesting about the place other than the fact that it was Times Square. It’s almost like it’s a place that’s famous for being famous at this point and people go there to just check out the ads and billboards.

We also went to Central Park, the most visited urban park in the world. Now, I love urban parks. I think they’re an incredibly great idea since it provides people with a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and it also balances out the pollution a bit and emits some fresh air.

Central Park is huge so we didn’t have a chance to visit all of it. In fact, it would probably take a long time to do so since it’s such a big park. It was pretty nice though. I could totally see myself doing some long walks in the park or even renting a bike and going through it.

Central Park Skyscrapers
A giant park surrounded by supertall skyscrapers.

One of the smaller goals I had for my trip to NYC was to also grab a hot dog at Central Park. Why? I have no idea, it just seems like it’s a thing. So, despite everyone telling me the hot dogs are gross and that it was a bad idea, I decided to get a hot dog anyways.

It was ok. Nothing super special.

In continuation of the idea that NYC has everything, we also went and checked out some bridges. There’s a “secret spot” (that’s not so secret) in Brooklyn where you can frame the Empire State Building between the feet of Manhattan Bridge. That was a pretty sweet spot to take some pictures.

The Secret Spot
The not so secret spot.

From there, we walked up to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it. I didn’t expect that the pedestrian path was actually above the road and so that was kinda cool. The bridge itself has an interesting construction so it was neat to be up there and be able to see both Brooklyn and Manhattan.

That said, there was like a trillion people on that bridge and it was so crowded. It was really difficult to just take it slow and try to enjoy the view since there were so many people walking by, taking photos, or ringing the bell on their bikes.

By the time we walked to the other side I was really glad to be done. It probably would’ve been a much nicer walk if there was like, a quarter of the people.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
So many people, not enough bridge.

Overall, it was a short trip to New York City, but it was a really good one. Not only did I have a chance to hang out with family, but I also had a chance to check out well, New York City.

I think New York City is a really special city. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world in terms of.. pretty much every metric. I feel like it’s one of those cities where you could spend your entire life in and still have a lot to explore.

New York City is a city where you can get lost in a forest of super tall skyscrapers. A city where you can take a breather and hang out in nice parks or by the water. A city where you can meet people and eat food from all over the world. A city that is incredibly modern but still have its fair share of history.

The idea of New York City is pretty nice and I’m definitely looking forward to the next time I go back.

Dallas: D City

In continuation of my crazy May, last week I went to Dallas for another conference. I first went to Texas back in October and really enjoyed my time there so I was really looking forward to going back.

The primary reason is honestly because of the food.

When I go to places like Seattle or Chicago, I’m typically eating food that I could get back at home, but maybe it tastes better cause it’s more of a specialty there. I guess technically that holds true when I’m going to Texas too, but I really don’t each much Mexican food or barbecue food when I’m in Toronto.

When I’m in Texas though, that’s like literally all I eat since it’s amazingly delicious there.

Don't Mess with Tex-Mex
The city knows what’s up.

And eat I did! Dallas is the hometown of one of my friends so I was armed with a list of recommendations of where to go when I was there.

As planned, I pretty much just had Mexican food for my first couple meals. I was a bit free on the first day and the weather was pretty decent so I walked around the city a bit and went to this traditional Mexican restaurant for dinner, which was nice.

The next day, I went to another Mexican restaurant, but this time a bit more “Tex-Mexy”. I got some enchiladas and they were also pretty good. The restaurant itself also had some pretty good decor so it was an overall pretty solid meal experience.

Chuy's Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Enchiladas
Chuy’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Enchiladas, what a name.

The following day was a barbecue day. Another recommendation from my friend was to this restaurant just south of the downtown core in the Bishop Arts District. It just so happened that there was a beer fest going on there so the street was pretty lively.

The street in general was pretty cool since there was a lot of small, quaint shops and restaurants. The place we went to for our barbecue was also pretty awesome. It was pretty standard Texan barbecue in the sense that you just lined up and ordered some meat from a dude with a cleaver who bundles up your food with some sheets of paper.

But man, that was delicious. We ordered one of every type of meat and it was just so good. After the meal we decided to walk back to the hotel to burn off some of the food and so we just walked along the viaduct back into the downtown core, which also gave us some pretty views of the city.

Lockhart Smokehouse Barbecue
Some pretty damn good meat.

My last dinner was a bit more of a splurge dinner since I went up the tower to the revolving restaurant with a coworker. As I keep mentioning, I love checking out the towers in different cities and I’ve just recently realized that one of the best ways to do so is to just grab a meal at the top. Yea, it’s a bit expensive, but you get a good meal with a good view. Totally worth it.

Dallas’ Reunion Tower is an interesting one since it’s not very tall and honestly just a bit odd. Unlike other towers that taper off as it goes up, this one stays at a constant shaft width and is just capped off with a spherical mesh.

It’s definitely an interesting design decision and for the longest time I thought the sphere wasn’t actually centered on the tower’s shaft. But I spent a chunk of my last morning just walking around the tower and realized that it was a bit of an optical illusion.

Reunion Tower
Honestly you can’t tell me that the tower doesn’t look a bit off center.

The view from the top was alright too. It’s situated right by the edge of downtown Dallas and so from one side of the tower you get a pretty awesome view of the city and the other side is the Trinity River so you can see a bit more green and the bridges.

Other than the tower, it didn’t seem like there’s that much to do in Dallas from a sightseeing perspective. The only other interesting thing of note is that JFK was shot and killed in Dealy Plaza, which is in the middle of Dallas.

Today, there’s a few markers on the street where he was killed and they turned the building the shooter was in into a museum where you can learn more about the event. I actually went and checked it out and it wasn’t bad, it’s definitely an interesting place with some history to it.

When I travel, I love going to places that are super unique to that place. I guess being the home of a presidential assassination is quite unique and so that was worth the visit, especially since I have a pretty big interest in the Cold War and this was definitely a key event of the time.

The Grassy Knoll
A president died here.

And that’s pretty much all the sightseeing I did. All my other time was spent just working or wandering around the city. Dallas in general does seem like a pretty good city to hang out in though. I passed by a few cool districts that seem like they would be fun places to grab some food or drinks with some friends.

In that regard, I think Dallas can be compared to Toronto in the sense that it might not be the most exciting city to visit, but it’s a good city to just live and hang out in.

The only exception to this would be the weather.

Mobil Gas Pegasus
A pegasus after the rain.

When I went to San Antonio, the weather was incredibly hot and humid. Coming from a Torontonian fall, it was quite a change. It was no different with Dallas this time around since the moment I walked outside it was hot, humid, and it was a stark reminder that weather does actually get hot.

But that didn’t really hold up at all.

On the second day I was there, I was eating lunch when all of a sudden every phone started going off with a flash flood warning. I looked outside and yea, it was cloudy, but it wasn’t really raining. Then literally like ten seconds later the heavens opened up and it started to rain.

I honestly haven’t seen that much rain in a long, long time. It was a bit ridiculous. As a result it delayed or cancelled a lot of flights. Luckily, my departure flight was only delayed 30 minutes or so so it wasn’t that bad but I heard some pretty nightmare cases from others where their planes were rerouted to other cities.

ATS 2019
American Thoracic Society? More like, “after the storm”.

My friend said that it’s pretty typical for Dallas to experience weather like that, which I guess makes sense considering the geographical location of the city. Now, I enjoy the rain every once and a while, but man, that was a bit much.

Anyways, overall I had a pretty good time in Dallas. My main objective was to just wander around the city and eat some good food and I think I accomplished that. Dallas was also really different from San Antonio and so now I’m interested in checking out the other cities in Texas to see how they compare.

Seattle: The Creative City

So May is a bit of a crazy month. There’s four work related events that I have to attend and so it pretty much just means I have a lot of traveling in my future/past.

One of these events brought me to Seattle, my first trip to the American Pacific Northwest. If you’ve been following my blog you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been going to a lot of cities in America. I’ve been going so often that trips to America has kinda lost its luster.

However, Seattle was honestly really cool. I spent almost a week there and even on the first day I was really excited and impressed with the city. There’s so much to see and do and the city itself is so fun and beautiful.

Seattle from the Space Needle
The city and the seaplane.

I’ve realized over the last year that I really like the cities on the Pacific coast of North America. Cities like Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, all of them have a really cool vibe and I love the mountains and the ocean so it’s just wonderful walking around and taking in the scenery as well.

The first thing that really stuck out to me about Seattle was that the city was so creative. For one, it’s the hub city for huge tech companies like Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft, and all three of these companies played a part of my experience in the city.

The Spheres
Relaxing by the Spheres.

When you’re in Seattle proper, Amazon is king. They have their headquarters there and you can really see the influence they’ve had in the city. For example, they have the Spheres, an alternative workspace where Amazon employees can go work if they want a different work environment.

It’s kinda neat. It’s essentially an office building housed in three biospheres filled with plants and water. The point of the place is that it doesn’t feel like a regular office and that it gives people a chance to commune with nature. It definitely does that and it’s really nice. I don’t know if I can personally work there though, it’s too humid and kinda warm.

Inside the Spheres
On the top floor of the Spheres.

There are also a couple of Amazon Go stores in Seattle. These are the fabled cashier-less convenience stores where you just tap your phone when you enter, grab whatever you want, and then just walk out. No checkouts, no cashiers, just a system based on computer vision that determines what you’ve picked up and walked out with.

It’s amazing.

I went twice and both times felt absolutely surreal. I just went about my shopping like normal. You know, with some hesitation with what to buy, checking out stuff that I haven’t seen before, impulse purchases, etc. And then when I was done I just walked out and eventually got an email with my receipt.

Really made me feel like I was living in the future.

Amazon Go
The stores of the future, today.

Boeing also has their headquarters just south of Seattle. They have Boeing Field where they test and prepare their planes, which is pretty sweet. They also have the Museum of Flight where they go over the history of aviation and spaceflight. Really makes you think about how impressive human technology really is.

The highlight for me was the Concorde they had there. It was neat because Concordes are cool planes and I saw one at the London Heathrow airport from a distance. This museum, on the other hand, actually has one where you can even go inside. That was cool.

The Museum of Flight
A Concorde half obscured by a sign.

Finally, Microsoft was actually the reason why I went to Seattle in the first place. I was invited to go to a developer event, and that was fun. I actually plan on writing a separate post just for that, so stay tuned!

Anyways, aside from the tech stuff, Seattle is just a really cool city with plenty of awesome public spaces and parks where you can kinda escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and just chill out and relax. My favourite of which would be the Seattle Center and the Gas Works Park.

The Seattle Center is a public area that was built for the World’s Fair and it has a bunch of stuff. The most notable being the Space Needle. The Space Needle is probably one of the most famous towers in the world and in my opinion, one of the nicest looking towers.

Fountain and Space Needle
The International Fountain and the Space Needle.

I’ve seen a lot of towers in my time, but the Space Needle is one unique and interesting tower. The only thing is that it’s pretty short. Not many things in the city are taller than it, but if you do a mental comparison with it to any other tower, it’s actually pretty tiny.

Still looks really cool though. And of course there’s some pretty magnificent views from both the inside and outside of the tower. My favourite is the one at Kerry Park where you see the Space Needle in the “foreground” and Mount Rainier in the background.

The Gas Works Park is also worth visiting as well. It used to be an industrial area with an oil plant and now it’s this awesome park with a view of the city over a lake. And well, the oil plant is still there, just all derelict and rusted over so it makes the entire area look like someplace out of the Last of Us or something.

Gas Works Plant
The old gas plant at Gas Works Park.

In addition to the stuff to do and see, there’s plenty of stuff to eat too. There’s so much good food in the city.

Naturally, since it’s by the ocean there’s a lot of good seafood. Pike Place Market is pretty much the quintessential touristy place in Seattle for food and stuff. They have some awesome clam chowders, cheese, and they even have the world’s first Starbucks there.

Speaking of Starbucks, since Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks they have a Starbucks Reserve Roastery where they serve a bunch of cool menu items they don’t normally have at Starbucks. This includes alcohol which is pretty neat. I mean, how often can you say you got some alcohol at a Starbucks?

Bourbon at a Starbucks
Having some whisky at a Starbucks.

Overall, Seattle is awesome. I really enjoyed my time there and I just liked walking around the streets. There was always something interesting to see. Like, I was taking a bus to see this troll statue under this bridge and on my way there I see this statue of Lenin. Weird.

Or how right underneath Pike Place Market was this alleyway just covered with gum. The entire area just had this gum scent and it was equally cool and gross.

I think Seattle is probably easily my favourite American city that I’ve been to so far. It kinda has all the things that I like from cool tech stuff, good food, and beautiful scenery. I definitely wouldn’t mind going back and I’m looking forward to my next trip there.