Manhattan Photo Ops

If you are a regular visitor the Big Apple, you probably have your share of photos of popular tourist attractions. With millions clicking away in front of the Statue of Liberty and the Rockefeller Center skating rink, you may now want pictures that are still tourist oriented, but a bit more unique. On my last trip to Manhattan over the holidays, my daughter and I tried to be more adventurous. The following list contains places that you, too, may want to snap, or at least visit for different views of the city:

If your tastes run towards the macabre, you may want to have a meal at one of the two Jekyll and Hyde restaurants (One is in the village and the other is around 57th street.) Customers can browse through all 3 floors of this establishment while waiting for their food, and come home with a variety of snapshots that make them appear they’re in a horror movie. With skeletons, singing skulls, dissected bodies, monsters, vampires and laboratory equipment, it’s definitely fun. Along the same lines, you can visit Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. You can have your picture taken with the world’s tallest man statue, capture the fattest woman, pose with a few two-headed creatures, and be “cut in half” in another photo…not to mention what you can do with the torture devices. (A trip into some of the more interesting Greenwich Village costume stores can yield similar results.) A visit to the Metropolitan Museum can be just a creative; try posing with a group of mummies in the same stance as them, or in the same position as one of the many muscled Greek sculptures.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a store, restaurant or hotel lobby area in a momentary lull, you may get some lovely backgrounds, especially if it’s close to a major holiday and there are lavish decorations. I captured some images that I could use for holiday cards next year; they are that stunning. We found an area in one section of the subway in the Port Authority Terminal with two walls covered in gorgeous ceramic mosaic scenes, and it was a great setting to show off a part of New York that’s not commonly considered in photos. We found similar backgrounds at the U.N., with the plus that you can take photos in certain rooms when the tour is over. Don’t forget to have yourself or your companions photographed with the mosaic displays of the Empire State Building in that building’s lobby, either.

Many performers will allow a short period of picture taking after a show; we have some keepsakes with actors from the Blue Man Group, so it’s worth waiting around if you’ve fallen in love with the entertainers and want a personal remembrance.

Even the regular sidewalks can offer New York perspectives, with double-take store fronts and names; we found a few that still bring chuckles and pictures to prove we were there. Of course, walking down 5th Avenue opens a wealth of possibilities, the library being a typical example: after a picture with the lions out front, stop in for a glance at the virtual sea of computer stations-it’s worth the walk. If you are in an artsy mood, you can also find loads of street trash, packed crosswalks, blocks of neon, and windows of merchandise worth snapping as well. A trip to Chinatown can bring sights as hanging headless ducks and bins of unusual looking foods (to American eyes), while every ethnic neighborhood has its share of particular delights. Many years ago, I happened upon Madonna filming a scene in front of Trump Tower, but she was the only celebrity I’ve ever seen in all of my visits there. You may, however, have better luck or better timing.

You can also take pictures of your hotel room (if unbelievably tiny, gorgeous or looking out onto an expanse of Central Park), pose with a horses and its carriage along 60th street, or stand in front of one of the major television stations, as if you have just been hired by them. Plus, since each scene changes within minutes, everywhere in New York holds great photo opportunities.

Gettysburg Ghost Tour Dilemmas

Yesterday, I happened to mention that a small town not too far from us will be holding weekly ghost walks every Friday during the summer. My 14 year old daughter piped up with, “Can’t we go to Gettysburg instead?” (She remembers neighbors talking about ghost walks they took there a few years back) Well, I answered that I’d check it out; Gettysburg’s proximity to Washington, DC may pre-empt my original plans to do a Philadelphia/Washington trip on Amtrak. So, I spent some time researching, and I’ll share what I found with you. Please feel free to contribute your own experiences with Gettysburg and their ghost tours as well.

There are many organizations offering tours in the area, which, surprisingly, is a turn-off to me. With so many vying with each other, I tend to fear that there may be a tendency to do whatever it takes to attract business away from competition. When I see cartoon ads with Casper-like, smiling ghosts, my first reaction is to cross the company off my list. The idea of creating a tourist attraction off lives-and deaths-of soldiers is bad enough, but to cutesy it up even further does not seem right at all. Yes, I am intrigued about the battlefields and the possibility of residue energy-to which others have alluded after capturing orbs on their photos- but I don’t know if I want a costumed comedian leading me down a path in the dark, creating dramatization geared to tourist naiveté. The fact that at least one store in town sells equipment to pick up electronic voice phenomena (and electrical magnetic energy spikes) capitalizes on peoples’ hopes to experience the unexplained. This underlines another fact: serious ghost hunters descend upon Gettysburg regularly and often.

Although I did not spend time checking out each of the ghost tour companies individually, I did go onto Trip Advisor to read about the Farnsworth House. This bed and breakfast inn was named #7 on a list of the Most Haunted Hotels in the country, compiled by a cable TV travel series. Not only is it supposed to be home to 14 spirits, there is also a tour or the facility open to the public. If you have free time and you’d like a few shivers, read some of the travel experiences of those who stayed at the Farnsworth House; they will either make you rush for reservations or adamantly insist on staying elsewhere.

Now, I must admit that I find the paranormal more intriguing than most people, but even I am a bit cynical regarding some of the stories relayed. I believe the gal who said that the unclasped necklace she left on her dresser at night was found clasped and hanging over her coat rack the following morning. I also believe the fellow who claimed his recorder wouldn’t tape or playback while he was in his room. I even believe that the room door suddenly opened by a woman juggling the doorknob who had forgotten her key, while her husband was in the bathroom, after having had locked the room door. But I don’t think I can really accept that a child ghost kept caressing one traveler’s hair throughout her visit, or that someone just happened to smell putrid odors during the tour of the basement after the guide mentioned “rotting flesh”. On the other hand, looking one visitor’s photography taken on the battlefield after midnight did send chills down my spine.

The question remains: does the inundation of tourists with ghost-hunting gear make an area that suffered tragic death any less significant, or does it make it more so?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to investigate the possibilities and will keep you up to date. It’s good to know that there are also 32 Gettysburg tours that focus on battlefield history; such an amount has to offer historical perspectives in ways that can accomodate everyone’s personal interests. There is also a huge selection of times, lengths and costs in other local tours as well. In the meantime, in case you are interested in finding out more about the Farnsworth House, or Gettysburg itself for that matter, here are a few resources that I found to be helpful:

Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: http://www.gettysburg.travel/visitor/tours.asp?category_sub_id=195

Trip Advisor, Best Gettysburg Ghost Tours:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g60798-i335-k766599-Best_Ghost_Tour-Gettysburg_Pennsylvania.html

The Farnsworth House:
http://www.farnsworthhouseinn.com/rooms.html

Hanauma Bay Snorkeling

Some years back, I had the privilege of visiting Hawaii. For my honeymoon, my husband I decided to take an extra-special trip to the islands, so we stayed for a total of 10 days on Oahu, Maui and the “big island” of Hawaii. Suffice it to say that it was absolutely gorgeous, and hard to remember that we really weren’t in foreign country. My clearest memories of this state involve the strong aroma of native flowers that filled every hotel lobby (open aired as they were), eating macadamia nuts, and snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. Probably due to the fact that I’d never before snorkeled, this adventure would probably have stayed with me regardless, but doing so in this nature preserve was especially gratifying for a number of reasons. (I later snorkeled in Cancun, but still preferred Hanuama Bay.)

Located 10 miles east of Waikiki, Hanuama Bay was formed inside a volcanic cone by the oceanic incursion into two craters. One of the loveliest areas of the island, it was suggested by a concierge as the best place to snorkel. There are several tour operators that charge around $17-$20 per person; the one we chose offered a shuttle bus for transportation to and from our hotel. (It can be easily reached by public transportation as well.) We chose to spend about a half day, which offered plenty of time to spend in the water, as well as on the beach. For one price, we received flippers, a mask and snorkel, and an allotment of fish food-which I don’t believe is offered any longer. (We also chose to rent an underwater camera, and have realized countless times since then what a good decision that was. It’s still worth it at around $13 for 27 shots.) Anyway, after a short lesson, we were able to snorkel wherever we wished in the bay, along with a good many other guests. One of the really great things about Hanuama Bay is that it is relatively shallow; rarely did the water reach my neck. (That was an ideal situation for anyone who is snorkeling for the first time, as they will often wish to drain excess water from their mask, a task more easily achieved while standing on the firm ocean bottom.)

Believe me when I say that one did not need to look very far or for very long before spying fish! Some people take deep breaths while snorkeling in order to dive deeply, but I was more comfortable staying close to the surface, especially being on the lookout for photo opportunities. When I would see an exceptionally colorful specimen, I’d grab more air, then dive a bit deeper to get as close as possible before snapping. Unfortunately, a good many of the shots did not capture the entire fish bodies (and some included other swimmers as well) but I’m still very glad that I have them. Although all underwater photos are beautiful, knowing that you took them yourself adds even more delight.

The area is considered “one of the most spectacular natural resources in Hawaii” and is enjoying years of working for the re-establishment of its marine ecosystem. It’s clear, as advertised, that its purpose is not for beach sports, but for protecting marine life. As such, it is the first Marine Life Conservation District in Hawaii. Hanauma Bay also offers tours, scuba diving and picnic facilities, and is one of the most frequently visited tourist spots in Oahu. At one time, it was receiving up to 3,000,000 guests each year. This prompted action plans to be put in place to limit the number of guests at any one time, and close for environmental conservation every Tuesday.

Hanauma Bay clearly “walks the talk” when it comes to protecting natural habitat, and by doing so, provides more to be appreciated as well as enjoyed. Anyone who is considering a visit to Waikiki owes it to themselves to visit the park, to witness the way nature intends to be. (And, if they like to swim with the fishes, Hanauma Bay is certainly the best place to do it!)

For recorded information about the park regarding hours of operation and entrance and parking fees, call (808) 396-4229.