Friday, 29 August 2008

4am

I haven;t been posting stories about late nights out in NY as, well, I don't think they have been as interesting as Tokyo and I've had other things to talk about. However, as I'm looking for a space filler for Friday I'll recount my night from last Saturday.

Having got back to NY from Hartford at about 9.30pm I decided I felt good enough to head out and meet up with a group I knew were drinking up town. They were in a bar called "Salon de Ning" which is a rooftop bar in the Peninsula hotel. Not really my scene at all being honest but it does have some good views out over the city and it was a nice night to be outside.

This place stopped serving at about 1am so we headed on to a bar a couple of blocks south that I knew of which was much more my type of bar - big screens showing sport and a mechanical bull in the middle of the bar, welcome to Johnny Utah's. The bull riding is quite funny to watch actually as the operator gives guys about 10 seconds then spins the thing 360 in about half a second and no-one survives that. Girls generally get a fair amount longer...

Unfortunately, this place was also coming up on last orders at 2am so I headed down to Greenwich Village with a couple of guys to a bar called "The Spotted Pig". This was a new bar for me and very nice it is too - a bit of a gastro pub but plenty of beer choices. Apparently it is open to 4am but I think we left a little before then - I could be wrong on that.

In any event, it was 4am by the time I wandered in home which gave me a nice hangover for baseball the next day.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

US Open (Evening Session)

There are separate tickets sold for the Arthur Ashe Court in the evening where a couple of the prime matches are played out until late at night - Tuesday night saw Venus Williams take on Samatha Stosur followed by Roger Federer playing the relatively unknown Maximo Gonzalez.

This place is huge - easily the biggest purpose built tennis arena in the world with just over 22,500 seats and 90 corporate boxes (apparently the equivalent at Wimbledon or Roland Garros is about 15,000 capacity).

As you can see my cheap $22 ticket had me in the clouds...but it was a cheap $22 ticket so what do you expect. Actually, I would say that the place was never more than 80% full - it really is ridiculously easy to get tickets here compared to Wimbledon.

First up was the Williams match and the first set was over in less than half an hour (6-2). Stosur played much better in the second set and actually led 3-1 before Williams rattled off five games in a row to win the set.

At this point the scores from the remaining matches on the outer courts were displayed and I noticed that Andy Murray was playing doubles so I sped off outside to catch the end of that match. When I arrived it was level at 3 all in the third set (unlike Wimbledon the Men's Doubles plays best of three rather than best of five).

Murray and his partner Hutchins eventually won the set 6-4 at which time I ran back into the Arthur Ashe Court to the Federer match arriving at 2 all in the first.

Although Gonzalez managed to make to 3 all in the first set Federer then stopped messing about and rattled off ten games in a row to win the first two sets. Gonzalez managed to pick himself up a bit in the second and actually had a couple of break points to go 4-2 up but when he needed to Federer always seemed to get the ace he wanted.

The third set went to Federer as well to wrap up a 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 win at 10.30pm. Actually, there were still some matches on the other courts going on as I left but I figured almost 12 hours of tennis is enough for one day.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

US Open (Day Session)

I was already planning a couple of evenings at the US Open tennis but as I wasn't too busy at work I decided to go for the whole day yesterday. I got a general entry ticket for $46 which gave me access to all courts during the day other than the main stadium.

When I arrived I headed straight to the Grandstand Court (which is the third biggest) to see the No. 22 seed Tomas Berdych play an unseeded Yank called Sam Querrey (actually he is ranked 55th in the world so no mug). Berdych never got going and was stuffed in three sets (6-3, 6-1, 6-2). Oddly this court was pretty empty (about a third full at best for this match) and most of the crowd cleared off after this match.

I however stuck around for the second match which was No. 11 seed Daniela Hantuchova against Anna-Lena Groenefeld. It became fairly apparent early on that Hantuchova would not have an easy ride as Groenefeld had a cannon of a serve (highest I saw was 125 mph which is faster than so of the men's serves I saw during the day).

In fact Hantuchova never really looked like winning and lost in straight sets (6-4, 6-2).

At the end of this game I took a wander and watched a few games from the Gasquet v Haas match which was in the Louis Armstrong Court but as my ticket only let me sit in the top tier I quickly decided to head out and explore the other smaller courts.

There was a marathon match going on on court 10 between two unseeded players which went all the way to a tie break in the 5th set - apparently the US Open plays different rules to Wimbledon and there are tie breaks in the final set rather than at Wimbledon you get the occasional match going on for ages).

Next match I watched all of was the No. 20 seed Nicole Vaidisova playing Petra Cetkovska - you may spot a running theme with my match choices here...

This was a massacre being honest with Vaidisova winning easily (6-2, 6-1). What was interesting was that I ended up sitting just in front of Vaidisova's coach and it was interesting to hear his comments during the game.

Before the evening session I wandered round watching bits and pieces of a few matches on the outer courts (the outer courts were all packed but the Grandstand was still quiet - I suspect that this was only because it was in a different area to the outer courts and wasn't as easy to find). I had never really appreciated the difference between the men's and the women's games but there is a huge difference in speed and tactics watching the games live and the men's games are much better to watch I found - still there are positive things in the women's game too (see above and Alona Bondarenko and Marta Domochowska below):

Evening session coverage will continue tomorrow.

Monday, 25 August 2008

USA Eagles v Munster

Well, the bus to Hartford was all very easy (and very busy - there were three full buses). Actually, there was also a movie on the bus (a terrible film which seemed to be a loose remake of The Karate Kid called Never Back Down - I don't recommend it).

The set-up for the match was very similar to the Churchill Cup with about 8,500 people at the game. This time however I was in the sun all day rather than the shaded side of the ground.

The game was very open and the Yanks started well going 8 - 0 up after only 10 minutes. However, Munster woke up a bit after that and with half an hour gone were leading 17 - 8. Although the Yanks scored again they still trailed 20 - 15 at half time. I should mention that this was very much a Munster 2nds team that was playing with only three first choice players on the team (Denis Hurley, Brian Carney and Lifeimi Mafi).

The second half was a bit more one sided with Munster adding a further 4 tries against one more from the Yanks for a final score of 46 - 22 - actually, that scoreline is a bit unfair on the Yanks.

I'm off to the US Open tennis all day tomorrow so I'll be back on Wednesday to report on that.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Bus v train

I'm heading to Hartford tomorrow and, as it is relatively near to NY, it makes no sense to fly. Oddly, the train and the bus are both supposed to take 2.5 hours to get there - this seems odd to me. The only thing I can think of is that the train makes a whole bunch of stops and the bus doesn't...

In any case, the train is ~$100 and the bus is ~$50. Also the bus times are better for me so my first foray onto the bus it is.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Nationals v Rockies

The Washington Nationals haven't been around for very long having been moved from Montreal in 2005. Also, they have a brand new stadium this year which I think is now my favourite of the grounds I've been to (narrowly beating out Cleveland). Instead of just one bar in the outfield they have a two floor bar, also there is a ridiculous choice of beers and food in the ground as well.

I had planned to spend half the game at my seat and the other half in the bar but my seat turned out to be in the very front row (if you discount the ground crew who were on folding chairs in front of me) so I decoded to stay there. Before you wonder why I couldn't tell this from my ticket, the front row was row "D" for some reason - not sure what happened to A-C...

The game itself was another blowout which wasn't too surprising as Washington have the worst record in baseball. The final score was 13 - 6 to Colorado - although oddly none of the runs scored were from home runs.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Washington Sightseeing

The centre of Washington is basically one massive park with various statues, museums and monuments scattered around. Unfortunately there isn't much shade so I got roasted on Saturday although I didn't go as red as I expected so I might finally be getting used to the sun.

It takes a fair amount of time to just walk round everything (and that's without going into any of the museums) and everywhere was ridiculously busy. This was because there was some big God Squad concert going on in the middle of the parks - I'm talking fire and brimstone preachers and people waving there arms and swaying in the air type lunatics. I actually took my headphones off and wandered through this and did manage to (almost) keep a straight face, its funny stuff.

Anyway, here are a the three most famous sights I made it too - Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Capitol Building:

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The White House

In London I think I've seen Buckingham Palace twice - once when I walked by on my way to a concert a couple of years ago and once going past in a taxi in 1999. Why do I mention this? Well, my impression of it was "I thought it would be bigger".

Seeing The White House on Saturday was the same - I thought it would be bigger:

Monday, 18 August 2008

Washington, D.C.

I didn't know too much about Washington before I headed down there for the weekend. What little I did came from the Hunter S. Thompson book "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" (incidentally, this is my favourite Thompson book and highly recommended). In the first chapter Hunter has just moved to Washington to cover the election race:

"Life runs fast & mean in this town. It's like living in an armed camp, a condition of constant fear...When I came here to look or a a house or apartment, about a month ago, I checked around town and figured Capitol Hill was the logical place to locate. 'Good God, man!' said my friend from the liberal New York Post. 'You can't live there! It's a goddamn jungle!'...Meanwhile things like burglaries, street muggings and random assaults are so common that they are no longer considered news."

To be fair, that was written in December of 1971 (so several years before I was even born) and I'm pretty sure that the whole place has had a huge clean up job done on it since then. I actually found it one of the cleanest and most laid back places I've visited in Yankland so far. I'll start the tour tomorrow.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Ticket bonus

I'm sure I've mentioned how cheap concerts are in this country - generally they range from $10-$25 which is nothing compared to the UK. However, Ticketmaster also gives you a free iTunes download with every ticket purchased which is worth $1 anyway.

Maybe this is also happening in the UK too and isn't news to anyone but I like it.

Also, some late breaking news - my deadline at work has been shifted back to October at the earliest so my August trips are all safe. Good news on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Staten Island Ferry

Easiest way to get to Staten Island from Manhattan - get the ferry, it takes about 25 minutes. As it goes right past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well it doubles as a sight seeing cruise.

For some reason it is free as well. It is estimated that about 65,000 per day use this ferry - that's a hell of a lot of money being missed out on. Even if they only charged 25c a trip that's $16,250 a day???

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Where am I?

Take a look at the two pictures below and try and guess where I am:

If you guessed still in NY then you're correct. Not the normal image of NY that I expect you see, normally it is just the metropolis of huge skyscrapers and busy streets rather than beaches but there are a fair number not too far from the city. Specifically, these pictures come from Coney Island which takes about 45 minutes on the subway from Manhattan. I was down there on Saturday for a look around as it is where the Brooklyn Cyclones ground is - I got a great day for it too.

As for the Coney Island area (which isn't actually its own island but part of Long Island) itself - well the phrase that came to mind was "You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy". Now that is undoubtedly harsh but what I'm trying to get across is that this place is mobbed as it is so easy to get too. Actually, beach area in front of the funfair was mobbed but walk to the other side of the pier (about 100 yards) and it was fairly empty - can't really work out why that was. The fair itself includes such gems as this:

One other thing that is in the area is the venue for the Hot Dog eating contest which is held each year on 4th July (and covered at length on ESPN).

The current record is 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes - that's one every 10.9 seconds!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Enemy

I'm rather annoyed with last night - I went to see The Enemy play at the Bowery Ballroom and was happy to see that Gran Ronde were one of the support acts - this was the first band I saw in NY back in October I think and I was rather impressed with them. Unfortunately I turned up at 9pm which was when the second band was coming out. There really seems to be no pattern to which gigs start at what time here. Anyway, to the bands I did see:

Photo Atlas - Certainly very loud (which suggests I may be getting too old for concerts) but the music was good. The lead singer however wasn't so good and seemed to be shouting more than singing - I can do that!

The Enemy - The audience was filled with even more Brits than usual last night (and a lot of them were very dunk) which made for a much more lively crowd than usual. The band itself were good although the entire set only lasted just over 45 minutes.

This link has a couple of the best songs by The Enemy posted as mp3s at the moment: "You're Not Alone" and "We'll Live And Die In These Towns". I've also found a site with "On And On" by Gran Ronde which is one of the best from their album - seriously, try it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Minor Leagues

Fairly recently I found out that as well as the two major league baseball teams in NY there are affiliate minor league teams for each of the Yankees and the Mets - they were both at home this weekend so I headed off to see the Brooklyn Cyclones (established in 2001) on Saturday evening and the Staten Island Yankees (established in 1999) on Sunday.

Both teams have similar grounds which hold about 7,500 people each (Brooklyn first followed by Staten Island):

These games are real bargains as well with the most expensive tickets costing only $15/$13 - so if you want to see a baseball game in NY but aren't bothered about seeing one of the big two then these are definitely worth a look.

The Cyclones lost there game 2 - 0 against the brilliantly named "Batavia Muckdogs". One of the things I noticed was that there were so many giveaways and competitions going on with something different between every inning. I also got a free t-shirt on the way into the game.

You might notice on the far wall a "Win A New Car" target - if a home run goes through the target someone in the crowd wins...I can't believe it happens often if at all.

As for the Staten Island Yankees - well that was a washout. About 10 minutes before the game (against the not as impressively named Williamsport Crosscutters) was due to start it was announced that there were showers on the way so the game was being delayed until they passed...the showers didn't show up until more than an hour later by which time they could probably have played three or so innings.

Annoyingly the "showers" hung around so the game was postponed - I may head back there as my ticket is good for another game. So I can't tell you much more about this team: beers were 50c cheaper here than at the Cyclones...

Friday, 8 August 2008

Late one

So I was supposed to be in Chicago today at a meeting but that was called off last night at 8pm - less than 12 hrs before I was due on the plane. So instead I was in the office as usual - the win from this was that I was around for the office outing to Shea Stadium to see the Mets v Marlins game.

In a box, free beer and free food - it was a tough evening:

If you care, the Mets won 3-0 and I beat the free bar...

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Bloc Party

I have a couple of gigs to go and see this month after the lull of the last few weeks - first up were Bloc Party at Webster Hall last night. Again, this place messed me up with timings - doors at 8am suggested it would be normal NY timing with bands on at 9pm, 10pm and 11pm. But no, for some reason they do things differently here - 8.30pm, 9.30pm and 10.30pm. So I missed all of the first band, who I'd never heard of, called Amazing baby.

Does It Offend You, Yeah?
- I've got a message to pass on to this band: Apollo 440 called and they want their act back. OK, so you don't remember Apollo 440 but they were sort of electronic/dance/rock from the 90's. Well DIOYY? sound exactly the same based on last night. That isn't such a bad thing but I won't be rushing out to buy their album.

Bloc Party - "Silent Alarm" remains one of my most played albums but the follow up "A Weekend In the City" just is not up to standard. I've given it plenty of chances having gone back to it almost monthly for the last year but instead of it growing on me I actually dislike it more each time - most Bloc Party fans I know have a similar view. Now I don't want a band to be Oasis (release the same album over and over again) but don't head off on a massive tangent after one album.

It became obvious that the majority of the crowd last night had a similar opinion as the reaction for songs from the first album was much better than the newer stuff (although maybe "Flux" is beginning to grow on me). Heck even the band seem to know what there best stuff is as all but one of the encore songs were from "Silent Alarm".

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Cheers

It is actually 15 years since the last episode of Cheers was made - I guess that means there are plenty of people now who have never heard of it. This was apparent as I sat in the bar and a couple with 4 kids came in. The Dad was engrossed and ordered his beer in a souvenir glass while the kids looked bored out their minds wondering what the big deal was. Made me smile anyway.

In Boston there are two "Cheers" bars - one a replica of the set in the Quincy Market building and one on the street corner from the opening credits (although this one looks nothing like the TV bar inside). I've actually been to this one before (11 years ago on my only other trip to Boston).

I was going to post an old picture as well as a new one but it appears I haven't got round to scanning the old ones yet.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Red Sox v Athletics

Be honest, you knew it was coming - I rarely go anywhere without going to see whatever local sport there is going on so I'm back at the baseball.

This looked like it was going to a good game from the very first inning when the A's scored 2 runs straight away. The Red Sox then answered with 5 runs of their own. So only one inning down and already 7 runs in total including three home runs hit over "the Green Monster". I suppose I'd better explain that - "the Green Monster" is the nickname of the 37 ft 2" (11.3 m) left field wall at Fenway Park.

The seats up there are a relatively new addition having only been added in 2002. Fenway Park itself is the oldest remaining Major League baseball stadium in use having been opened in 1912. The stadium itself definitely had more character than the 70's grounds in NY (Shea and Yankee) and the newly built grounds (Cleveland and Philly) and is recommended for a visit if you can get a ticket - they are on track to beat the consecutive sell out record of the Indians on September 3 this year with 456 straight games.

Actually I'll just finish today's history lesson now. The Red Sox are the only baseball team in Boston nowadays but they weren't the first - in fact they weren't even the original Red Sox. The first Red Sox (Red Stockings actually) were formed in Boston in 1871 who (after several names changes) moved to Atlanta in 1966 as The Braves. The current Red Sox were formed in 1901 and had no official name (although oddly, according to the game program I got, they were unofficially known as the Yankees for a while) until 1908 when they adopted Red Sox.

Now back to the game, 5-2 after the first inning became 9-2 after the third and ended up at 12-2 (with another home run going over the Green Monster late on).

The other thing I noticed was that the fans here seemed much more like real sports fans than in NY where people seem half interested most of the time. Even in a blowout win like this the fans were into the game the whole time.

Another good ting is the location of the ground, there are loads of bars and clubs in the surrounding streets and it is only about a half hour walk from the middle of Boston (again unlike the NY grounds which are in the middle on nowhere with little to nothing going on outside).

Monday, 4 August 2008

Boston

Despite the poor weather report for the weekend it was actually really nice for my whole trip other than two half hour downpours (both of which I was indoors for). Having arrived relatively early on Saturday morning I planned to spend my day walking along The Freedom Trail - a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you through 16 historic sites in Boston. I actual fact this only took me until about lunchtime - I should really have seen this coming as my idea of a walk and that of an average Yank is probably quite different.

To be honest I didn't really find the historic sites that interesting (definitely not compared to those in Philadelphia) - a heck of a lot of churches and graveyards. However, I did stumble across a rather interesting presentation at Bunker Hill (which was the site of battle between the British army and Yank colonists in 1775) talking about the battle and the weapons used there.

I spent most of the rest of the day wandering round the tourist tram route (the centre of Boston really isn't that big) and seeing the other sites listed on that route. If New York is similar to London then Boston definitely has more of an Edinburgh feel to it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

First trip of the month survives

After some rather late nights in the office this week (I left at gone 11pm last night although that did mean I avoided the $1 pizza slice place for the first time this week) I am heading off to Boston for the weekend. Flying early tomorrow morning and then back on Sunday evening...all ready for another week of late nights.

By the time I get back on Sunday my new flatmate should have moved in as well - so I picked a good weekend to be out of NY as I avoid having to help out carrying stuff.