Sunday, October 7, 2007


Somehow they let me on the bus to Baltimore, even though my stench could easily be smelled from afar. The lady sitting next to me was superb-- she was going to Baltimore as well to visit her sister. We enjoyed a wonderful conversation, although later I wondered just what on earth she must have thought of me...

Luckily, I got some sleep on the along the way. I'd need it to stay up late with Doug to try and make up for the fact that I was going be at least six hours late. I texted him that I was on my way and anxiously awaited his reply.

I woke up in Baltimore with still no reply from Doug. I called him once I unloaded my things from the bus-- he never got my message and would be there in about an forty-five minutes... he wasn't a happy camper. Then again, neither would I have been.

Upon his arrival, I was all business. I apologized profusely for missing my bus and reassured him that I would make up for it. He had a wait-and-see attitude and could barely contain himself and my eau de alcohol cologne. He unloaded on me, rightfully so, when I asked him how he felt about the whole situation. I made sure I was on my best behavior and fully alert the whole time. We would have 2 1/2 days together, and I wasn't about to mess it up.

We went back to his apartment in Ellicott City so I could freshen up and then spent the next few hours catching up before we decided to go to a horse show that his girlfriend, Courtney, was working at.

The show was superb-- also my first horse jumping show. It was the first time I really got to hang out with Courtney and Doug together, too. They made such a wonderful couple... one that anyone would want to aspire to in a relationship.

After the show, Doug and I decided to go out to a bar near his place and enjoy some brew and good times. We closed the bar down. I was in full force, as promised.

The next day we went into Baltimore proper and visited Fort McHenry, one of the historic battlegrounds from the War of 1812 and also the penning place of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key. It was at Fort McHenry that Key, a lawyer, writer, and amateur poet, was held captive on a British boat on the Chesapeake River and penned his epic poem, that was later signed into law as the United States' national anthem in 1931.

The Fort was in magnificent shape and Doug and I had fun scouring the place and imagining what it must have been like during those epic days. The weather played along nicely too and gave us the perfect day to go out exploring.

We visited Baltimore Harbor afterward and enjoyed the sites of the ships in dock and the gorgeous scenery. We hopped aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Clipper, an old sailing ship that every cadet must be trained on during his/her first days in service. I couldn't get over just how huge and how much work it required to sail such a large vessel. It made me want to go sailing!

We grabbed a bite to eat at the Harbor and then headed home. We both needed to be on our way to the airport shortly. He was off to Houston, and I Chicago. Courtney gave us a lift, and away we went.

I was grateful to have been able to see some many friends during my short 10-day stint to the East Coast. I felt awful about how things ended up with Doug, but thought that I had recovered a bit from my mistake. In the end, all was well... good friends let things go and move forward. He and I were still and always will be "Zimmergenossen."

Thanks Doug and Courtney for showing me such a wonderful time and for your outstanding hospiality. Doug, thank you for forgiving me for my error in judgment. I look forward to making it out to Maryland more often than every five years to see you both!

The pen that was used to sign the law that made the Star Spangled Banner the official national anthem of the United States of America.

The view of the Chesapeake River from Fort McHenry, which was where the Star Spangled Banner was penned by Francis Scott Key.

The structure was formed in a star shape so that it was more difficult for the enemies to enter the structure.

An artillery bunker.

The inside of the fort.

Doug and I at the Coast Guard Clipper, on which all cadets are trained.

Friday, October 5, 2007

New York City

I have heard, as I am sure many have, that New York City (aka "The Big Apple") has a vibe about it like no other city in the world. After all, it is the "City That Doesn't Sleep." As my bus rolled closer to the Holland Tunnel from New Jersey, I could feel the vibe reverberating already. I could hardly contain my excitement as we exited through the other side and into New York City.

My friend Ben was running a tad late in meeting me at the Greyhound Station in lower Manhattan, so I decided to step outside and take a walk. Ten minutes later I found myself looking up at Madison Square Garden. I was star struck by New York already.

Ben and I met a little later at the station. It was the first time I'd seen him in roughly six years, and he hadn't changed one bit!

Ben and I actually weren't very close at university, where I met him. He was a friend of a friend and also a bartender at a hot-spot on campus. We had talked occasionally in depth, but never for very long, so it was extremely nice of him to meet up with me while I was in the Big Apple and actually allow me to crash at his place, too.

Ben lives in Brooklyn in a sweet pad with his friend, Jeff, who I also actually know through a friend from university, near the Williamsburg Bridge. It's definitely in a choice location and located near many cool restaurants and pubs.

But first it was off for a bite to eat... to a place the served pizza!

New York pizzas are unlike any pizza in the world. They are thick, although not nearly as thick as a Chicago-style pizza, and is essentially made as if the pizza was another food and the crust was just to accentuate the item. Meaning, in New York, there are pizzas such as a taco pizza; the pizzas have fixings that you have never seen or thought to add to a pizza, and when you order a pizza, it is loaded with cheese and toppings. There is no skimping a New York pizza! And, WOW, are they good!!! (I actually prefer them to Chicago-style pizza.)

Over the next few days, Ben and I spent time hanging out about Brooklyn, catching up on the last six years, and just having a plain, ole good time.

My friend and travel buddy, Tamar was also in town during the month of October visiting her cousin Daniel. I met Tamar, who is from Israel, in Kathmandu in March, and then ran into her again in Dharamsala in May... and now here we were seeing each other again-- I was ecstatic!

Ben and I went out for a solid night on the Lower East Side when Tamar called. She and he friend, Daniella, were going to meet us out for a night on the town. I couldn't wait!

When I saw Tamar enter the restaurant Ben and I were eating at, both she and I acted as though we were little school girls... I was sooo happy to be in the company of my old travel companion!

The next few days Tamar and I spent quality together reminiscing and building new travel memories together.

We spent an amazing, lazy day in Central Park.

... A few words on Central Park-- just go there! In Chicago we are blessed to have many public parks and Lake Michigan... none of them compare to the shear size, splendor, and aura of Central Park!

You cannot imagine just how large Central Park is when you first begin walking it... Nor can you imagine all of the different changes in scenery, either. There are ponds/lakes, a zoo, baseball/softball diamonds, massive lawns, world-class museums lining multiple sides of the park, restaurants, and, of course, the aura of being in places as Strawberry Fields, surrounded in serenity by one of the most culturally diverse cities in all of the world. If I lived in New York City, I am sure that I would spend just about every weekend at Central Park. It is that amazing!

I also toured Manhattan one day and saw many of the most famous buildings in the Capitalist World.

Seeing the World Trade Center site was, to say the least, a humbling experience. It's hard to imagine such a large complex being completely destroyed, leaving an empty hole in such a bustling city.

Walking Wall St. was awe inspiring. Anyone who has studied finance dreams of working on Wall St., and I am no exception. I made the choice to stay home after I graduated from university, however, and for all intensive purposes gave up that dream quite a while ago. I don't see myself going in that direction at the moment-- maybe one day-- but I couldn't help but dream of what it would be like to work in such a financial mecca. It would be a power trip like no other!

I went to a taping of the Colbert Report as well... A wonderful, although long (4+ hrs) experience. I love that man!

I also took a mid-morning (3 am) stroll to Times Square, a hop, skip, and a jump away from Daniel's apartment. I can now verify that New York City, in fact, doesn't (or rarely) sleeps. I loved seeing all types of people strolling through the square and taking in all of the lights and ambiance of the area at such a peaceful time of day.

Daniel hosted a fantastic party one night at his apartment in Hell's Kitchen as well. Tamar and friends made authentic Israeli dishes and we all drank glass after glass of wine until the early morning hours talking up a storm.

The one thing that I was unable to do that I really wanted to accomplish was going to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, I just missed the last ferry on my final day in the Big Apple, but I also didn't have a reservation to go into the Statue of Liberty. There's always next time! (Incentive to come back sooner??? I think so!)

Note: you need to purchase your reservation for the Statue of Liberty days, if not weeks, in advance if you'd like to climb to the top.

To begin my last night in the city, I spent feasting on traditional Tibetan food at a fantastic restaurant that was suggested to me by a friend, Tania, called Tsampa. Talk about amazing food! WOW! Everything was utterly delicious and tasted just like, if not better, than the traditional Tibetan food I had in Leh, India, which is home to many native Tibetan descendants. I had a four-course meal for $30-- unreal for New York!-- and the staff was some of the nicest I have had to-date. I would highly recommend Tsampa to anyone!

Afterward, I changed clothes in the restroom, and headed out to meet Tamar and co. at Ben's place of employment, Libation, on the Lower East Side.

Ben works in the VIP lounge and was able to hook my crew up with passes at the door into the VIP area. Standing at the door, literally behind the velvet rope, seeing the decked out and good looking crowd waiting outside to get in made me nervous. I called Ben to check if everything was OK-- Tamar and co. were already inside. I made my way to the doormen, who looked me up and down, focusing, naturally, on my abundant facial hair and told them I was a friend of Ben. They made a call upstairs and let me in. I wish I could have captured the shock of those waiting in line to get inside on camera as this long hair, heavily bearded traveler made his way with a stuffed backpack inside. It was a classic moment!

My last night in New York was spent in the best way possible... surrounded by good friends, with good music and good drink, in a great setting. I was happy to see that Tamar and Daniel brought their friends along-- the more the merrier-- and was ecstatic to see Ben in action. He's just a straight pimp.

A fantastic time was had by all, much part in thanks to Ben for hooking us up. Unfortunately, I later fell asleep on Daniel's couch after telling Tamar I was leaving for the bus station a mere 30 minutes after we arrived at his apartment at 4 am... and I missed my ride to Baltimore. When I awoke, I reeked of booze, but hugged my dear friend goodbye and stumbled my way all the way down to the Greyhound Station. I had a lot of explaining to do to Doug, whom I promised I would make the first bus after pushing back my departure from New York so that I could spend a proper night on the town with friends. Needless to say, it was going to be a long two-hour ride to Baltimore.

I was leaving New York in a daze, but my heart was still flowing with the excitement from my first trip to the Big Apple and longing to return again soon!

Thank you Ben, Daniel, and Tamar for making my trip an amazing one! Your hospitality was out-of-site!

Rockefeller Center pre-ice rink.

"Atlas" at Rockefeller Center.

I was floored when I saw that His Holiness was coming to New York City (Radio City Music Hall)-- I had just seen him a few months prior in Dharamsala. Too bad I wasn't staying longer in New York-- I would have loved to have seen him!

St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Inside St. Patrick's

Grand Central Station.

Inside Grand Central Station.

There were two Maseratis being raffled off inside the station.

Radio City Music Hall.

CBS studios looking back toward Times Square.

I loved this sign.

And the sky on this night begin light up by the lights from Times Square. A classic Autumn night.

An entrance to Central Park.

A close-up of the monument.

Central Park is just as you would have imagined, only much, much bigger and beautiful. It's, by far, my favorite public park in the U.S.

The famous Tavern on the Green.


The John Lennon memorial in Strawberry Fields across from the Dakota, where he and Yoko lived.

It was serene being there.

The Dakota.

Tamar and I visiting Alice in Wonderland.

Protesters boycotting the Beijing Olympics across the street from the UN Building.

They were also protesting the forceful actions of the dictatorship in Myanmar at the time too.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for advocating democracy in Myanmar, has been under house arrest by the Junta since 1990 after she (and her democratic party) defeated the Junta in the national general election.

Times Square by night/morning... 3am, to be more exact.

This horse appeared to be reading the newspaper with its owner. Occasionally, he would try to take it out of the owners hands. It was sooo funny!

Stephen Colbert and I.

Lincoln Center.

A monument near Central Park.

The entrance to the Empire State Building.

The view East (toward Brooklyn) from the top of the Empire State Building. The bright building on the left is the Chrysler Building.

The view South toward the Lower East Side. The bridges (nearest to farthest) in the background are the Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridges.

The view Southwest toward the World Financial Center (Ground Zero). You can see the Statue of Liberty straight ahead as well.

The view North towards Times Square.

Ben and I in Brooklyn.

The plans for the future World Trade Center site that had been massively delayed by bureaucracy.

A child and his father at Ground Zero.

Ground Zero.

The New York Stock Exchange.
Me and the "Charging Bull" near Wall St.

Only in New York.
A memorial near the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Lady Liberty.

Karen, Daniel, and Tamar.


I LOVE this photo!

The lights are nearly out for the evening... How did that guy get into VIP anyway? Thanks, Ben!

Ben says "Good night and see ya next time!"