Thursday, 26 April 2012

Hello East Belfast

View from Upper Newtownards RoadMoved house - check
Re-connected to the interwebs - check
Settled in - ongoing but almost there.

I usually say it's been a mad couple of weeks when we've been busy but the best part of the last 3 weeks have been immensely hectic. Just saying we've moved house hides the fact we've actually moved into a different house to the one we were intending to move to. It also hides the fact that we started moving into the house we now rent the same day the lease, a house just hours before hand we didn't know existed.

The first week was a case of hanging on for things outside of our control to take shape and then jumping into action as soon as answers could be found. The last week has been a case of trying to get things sorted and organised, things that we'd usually do in advance or in a structured way - like getting the phone/TV/Internet installed so as not to leave a gap. To be honest, although stressful, it's been a pleasant enough change, usually we're quite sedentary beside the gym, but the last 2 weeks has had us very hands on and really valuing any downtime we've had. If it wasn't for family, vodka, wine and beer (to all of whom we're very thankful) I think we'd have been nervous wrecks by now - and we're well versed in moving house - 7 times in 10 years for me now - hopefully that figure will space out a bit from here on in. This move was just something else - almost as worrying as the time we moved to Northern Ireland when the van company decided last minute that we couldn't take the van over water even though they'd taken the booking with the destination listed.

Oddly though, as unexpected as events were, I think it's worked out pretty good. We quite like the new place, we've a bit more room and we moved to the area we were hoping for so that we're both close enough to work to not have to have any long commutes.

There is still plenty of hard work to do yet before we can fully relax and enjoy our new surroundings but so far so good. Belfast isn't the biggest city in the world and we know East Belfast a little already but it'll be fun finding out what makes it tick and getting to know our new neighbourhood... not that we'll be far from North Belfast as we'll be running back and fourth a lot, especially down to Seaview for the football.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Moving House - One Piece of Fluff at a Time

Beetle helping us move house Helped by our new beetle friend who took it upon itself to help transport some fluff outside, we're currently in the strung out process of moving house. Thanks for the help little creature!

It's amazing how quickly a few years flies by. I can still vividly remember moving into the house we currently rent and yet I look at the post I made the last time we moved and 3 years have passed us by.

The house we're in has served us well but we're moving on to pastures new for Norngirl and me to be closer to our work places and also to rent somewhere with a bit more space. The preparations have been a good time to de-clutter, binning the rubbish and sending bags of books, clothes and miscellaneous stuff to new homes via charity shops. There is something satisfying about getting rid of the clutter... though I have been looking at the bags and wondering just where all the stuff came from in the first place. Like the weeds/snails etc in the Sims Social game on Facebook, I'm sure that when we've been away for a while, random stuff just materialises onto the property - the thing being in real life you don't get money for having to tidy it all away - damn you reality!

So the count is now up to 7 moves in 10 years, at least we got a full 3 years where we are now before getting the urge to move again. 3 years in a house, that's settled right? Sure, if I dare say so myself, we are just awesome tenants - it'd be impolite and selfish of us not to share ourselves around all the estate agents and landlords.

As always, moving is tiring and a little stressy but it'll hopefully be worth it when we get to our new place. You see we've not technically signed the lease yet, so I don't want to jinx it, but if all goes to plan we're hopefully moving over to East Belfast. We've spent plenty enough time during the day there before but neither of us has ever lived in County Down before... I kinda feel like we're cheating on Antrim a bit but sure, it's all Belfast. The biggest downside will be being further away from relatives and also from Seaview for the football but we'll just be a couple of buses away so no big deal. We're just having to hope it'll all go to plan with the move, hopefully it will or we might be sleeping in the removal van! Time will tell.

In hopeful anticipation of a successful move, does anyone know of any hidden, lesser known gems of things to do in that neck of the woods? Any underground sci-fi conventions, East Belfast Crusaders supporters clubs or maybe some yummy pasty selling bakeries we just haven't yet heard about yet?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Somewhere in Midtown Manhattan

After a week in the US and having stayed in Washington and Manhattan, it was the day we were heading over the river to experience a bit more of Brooklyn, but as seems to always be the case in the heart of New York, there is always something else to do before you leave.

New York Downtown Skyline

It was sad to leave a room with such an awesome view. Even the legally required tall building water tanks looked pretty from our window.

NYC Wooden Water Tanks

But we pulled ourselves away, checked out and left our bags to collect later then ventured out to have lunch in Grand Central Terminal. I wasn't impressed with the food at Juniors but I was with the closer look at what is a really grand building. 

Grand Central Station and Chrysler Building

We even had a go at whispering in the whispering gallery which was good fun and did our own 'printed off the internet' walking tour.

Train Station Chandeliers

What wasn't so fun was visiting the public toilets to take a leak. I was met by what can only be described as a naked old dude. The US sure has a major homeless problem, and amongst the business men and tourists were folks who seemingly have to go through the indignity of washing in the sinks of public conveniences. 

Norngirl has a much more detailed report of this half a day if you'd like to know the ins and outs but suffice to say that we fitted plenty into a few hours.

After we'd searched for some hard to find candy for a present, we admired the Chrysler Building a bit as it's Norngirls favourite skyscraper and rather pretty.

Chrysler Building

The top of it especially as it does tend to hide behind the other buildings somewhat.

Close Up of the Chrysler Building Roof

Next we had a look around the museum part of the New York Public Library which was full of all sorts of random artefacts from recent history.

New York Public Library Lion

After that it was the trek back to the hotel via Bryant Park and it's tall neighbours.

Skyscrapers near Bryant Park

Though we were still to do plenty of subway riding back and fourth, with bags collected and in hand, we set off to the next hotel. Next stop, Brooklyn.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Floating Around Manhattan on a Circle Line Tour

Sightseeing at the Statue of LibertyYou know us by now right? - I like to take photos and I'm a nerd for pretty much all things geographical. My wife likes her urban comforts and the sight of a coffee shop in a big city. We both also like taking random tours and seeing places from a different perspective.

So it came as no surprise that we ended up taking a guided boat tour around the island of Manhattan. It turns out that even in February we were not alone. We were just 2 of a couple of hundred others who had bought tickets to spend 3 hours on the Circle Line Full Island Cruise that day.

 Being February, we were again very lucky that the weather was dry and sunny with bright blue skies (though still cold and by the end of the tour were very glad we'd still dressed up warm for the occasion). To begin the tour we waited in a very long line at the time we'd been told to. The wait was for the other passengers from the previous tour to disembark the boat. Eventually we boarded the ship but not before they'd made everyone wait for people to have their photo taken in front of the boat which would be attempted to be sold to them later. We're not ones for having our photos taken, especially when it's not our own camera, so when we eventually got to the point where they were calling us forward we asked to skip it and instead made our way onto the ship and up to the open top deck.

With the sun there and in our warm coats it was rather pleasant. Once everyone was on-board and the guide on the boat had introduced himself, the tour and the safety stuff, we set off into the Hudson River. The tour went around Manhattan anti-clockwise so first up were scenes of the lower west side of the island - with the Empire State Building poking up from the urban jungle.

Empire State Building from the Hudson River

As we passed by the Chelsea piers there were sights like Pier 54 - the former Cunard White Star Line Pier where some of the survivors from the Titanic disaster were brought after their rescue and as far as I understand, it's where the Titanic would have docked had it made it across the Atlantic safely (though what is there now is the tiniest symbolic piece of a large complex that existed at the time).

Pier 54 Hudson River

Then we saw the financial district of lower Manhattan and the scenes here became familiar from our trip on the Staten Island Ferry from our previous time in New York.

Downtown Skyline NYC

The main difference to the skyline being the construction of One World Trade Center. Before we motored around the point of the island and into the East River, there was a detour into the bay where we saw Ellis Island

Ellis Island NYC

And the Statue of Liberty a bit closer up than last time on the Staten Island Ferry - this wasn't the closest pass of the Statue, we did get closer but everyone's seen a million photos of that landmark... this is what it looks like with people taking photos of it.

Statue of Liberty from a sightseeing boat

 The financial district loomed over head as we were passing by.

Manhattan from the East River

 As did the tall ship at South Sea Port

South Street Seaport from the East River

Before long we we were approaching the famous Brooklyn Bridge which we walked across last time.

Brooklyn Bridge from Below

 This time we got a different perspective from underneath the bridge.

The underside of the Brooklyn Bridge

 Here are some of the other highlights of the cityscape and scenery along the way:

Brooklyn & Williamsburg Bridges with the Statue of Liberty
New York Skyline
Power Station and the Chrysler building
As Norngirl pointed out in her post about this tour and the shape of Manhattan, I too was intrigued to discover how far up from Central Park Manhattan actually extends. Most surprising was this part of the tour... the Harlem River. As you leave the East River, you find many bridges. Such as Ward's Island Bridge.

East River and Ward's Island Bridge

 Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium from the River

 The High Bridge Water Tower

The High Bridge Water Tower from the River

Did I mention bridges? Here are some more!

Harlem River Bridges
Broadway Bridge on the Harlem River

 And some rather striking buildings and man made creations...

Reisdential Building on the Bronx Waterfront
Funky Building on the Harlem River
Big C

 Not to mention the place where all the subway trains are taken.

Subway Storage

The most pleasantly surprising part of the whole tour for me was waiting for us where the Harlem meets the Hudson River. For just a mile from one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world there is an almost picturesque setting.

Yes this is New York City Panorama

Almost amazed at the scenery only a stones throw from one of the most populated places on earth, we passed under the Washington Bridge along the upper West side.

George Washington Bridge
Jeffrey's Hook Light

At this point the sun was beginning to set and most folks headed inside. Norngirl and me and the competitive couple behind us braved the cold as we'd all come prepared. I can happily say I may have not been able to feel my hands or legs afterwards but I made it the whole way around above deck (#thingsIprobablyshouldntbeproudofbutreallyreallyam) It was worth staying out there for the sunset and the reflection of red and orange bouncing off the glass windows of the buildings in the Manhattan skyline.

Sunset reflected back into the Hudson River

 And the more relaxed view of New Jersey.

New Jersey Sunset

 As I was just about loosing the feeling in my camera holding hand we made it back past the Intrepid

Big buildings, Big Aircraft Carrier

 And docked by the other Circle Line boats.

Sunset on a boat tour

The trip was certainly worth doing, we got a perspective of the size and shape of Manhattan that I think would be very hard to visualise in any other way. Our guide for the day was very good and very diplomatic in his history... and was very kind to us Brits even though if I do say so myself, we have a somewhat pesky past in some parts of the world. For the length of the trip and the distance travelled I'd say it was actually pretty good value though I'd had maybe been in two minds had it of been terrible weather. I got a lot out of it on the day we went though as with most sightseeing trips, a lot of the enjoyment probably boils down to the weather that day. We were happy with our trip and I know this sight will stick in my memory for a long time:

Manhattan from the boat

Certainly well worth a few hours if you want to experience it for yourself. Personally, if we ever make it back to New York again, we want to go in a warmer month when the speed boat might be running... that looked like awesome fun too!


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