Wednesday, June 20, 2012

They like it big in Texas? New York likes it bigger.

Even early in the morning, the station is busy.
I had another exciting, busy day on the East Coast, beginning at 7:15 AM. I had no time to run though, because we had to catch our train to New York City to visit Columbia University and Times Square! I had never ridden on Amtrak before, so it was definitely a cool experience. The only thing I had to compare it with was the Bullet Train in Japan, so it seemed slow and bumpy; but it was just as punctual. The only bad part was the smell underground - it was hazy, and smelled more like oil and mechanics than of oxygen. We had breakfast while waiting for our train to arrive. I took advantage of being out of the meat-loving part of Philadelphia and ordered a delicious fruit salad. Then we played Old Maid together until it was time to line up for boarding. Security is very lax, so we didn't even need to show our IDs.
Times Square, just as busy!
We got off at Penn Station and hopped on the subway to Times Square first. It was my second time there, but I was still awed by the myriad of advertisements which were almost as big as some of the buildings. I felt very small compared to everything else, and had to crane my neck to look up at the skyscrapers. People were everywhere - it was far more crowded than San Francisco; in the middle of the street, they were doing some sort of mass yoga workout to advertise a company's products and celebrate the summer solstice. After an hour of marveling at and taking pictures of the buildings and billboards, we headed back to the subway to go to Columbia.
Formerly an asylum, now the French house.

The middle of campus.
The campus seemed like it could be its own city. Just 14 years older than UPenn, this school also held on to its 18th-century roots. The buildings appeared older, with its own style separate from the rest of New York. The inside was just as beautiful as UPenn, though the color scheme at Columbia followed the school colors more than it did at UPenn. It was smaller, but not any less grand. The information session and the campus tour gave very similar statistics; I think we would have learned the same amount with just the campus tour, rather than getting both. By the way, it was supposed to be 100 degrees in both New York and Philadelphia today; I drank probably three bottles of water just while in New York! After the campus tour, we rushed back to the subway to catch our 5:39 train back to Philadelphia, with Eric Wang as our guide to the quickest route.
The Low Library; it has no books.

Waiting for our train.

The rush was actually unnecessary; our train was delayed by about twenty minutes, and we played two more rounds of Old Maid. We got back to the hotel with just enough time to shower and unwind a little before heading back out for dinner at Amada. We all chose to do the "Chef's Selection," in which the chef chooses your various dishes (this restaurant served only appetizers, so customers have to order several). It was the equivalent to a four-course meal; some of my favorites were the wild mushrooms and the potato bread (that's not its real name; I don't know what most of the items were, but that's what it tasted like). We did not finish until 11 o'clock, and we were all stuffed and tired. Tomorrow, we're up at 6:45 AM to go visit Princeton!

Wild mushrooms, and wildly delicious.
Spinach, fig, and ham; somehow it worked.

Calvin's creative way of thanking the chef: food art using the leftover dessert sauce.

At the Big Apple

Today, I was extremely excited to go to New York City for the first time ever. We woke up at 7:15 and walked to the Amtrak Station half an hour later. While playing a quick game of cards, we lined up for the train. In just one and a half hours, we would be setting foot at New York City, one of the most renowned cities in the U.S.

When we arrived, it was unbelievably crowded. At the subway, it was so crowded that it was hard to walk to the exit. Just staying together seemed like a not so easy task. Finally, while emerging from the stairs to Time Square, the heat just hit us. We all were trying to find a cafe, while, at the same time, admiring the huge buildings and banners at this metropolis. It was a new experience for me because the Bay Area never had that crowded atmosphere like Time Square.

Busy streets in Time Square
After we thought we had seen all what Time Square had to offer, we set our eyes toward Columbia. The temperature felt as if it had increased by 20 degrees since the morning because of the combination of humidity and sunlight. We survived with water, and as we walked on campus, we noticed that Columbia, compared to U Penn, was much smaller, but had two amazing libraries that were nothing like the U Penn buildings. One good thing about this campus was that I always knew where I was, unlike U Penn, which was too big of a campus to walk through without a map. Once we finished our tour, we rushed back to the train, because we were on a tight schedule. Unluckily for us, we got delayed for a little less than one hour.

New Columbia Library

The Original Columbia Library

Entrance of the Amada Restaurant 

The delayed train forced us to only have a 40 minute break between our New York visit and our dinner at the Amada Restaurant. The restaurant had a casual feeling to it, unlike the extremely fancy Fountain Restaurant. The lights were dim and the candles there outnumbered actual light bulbs.  I really knew it was a different restaurant when the food on the menu had unpronounceable names. Because we were not used to the food, we all agreed on having a chef choice to surprise us with he recommends. Boy, we were in a shock when we found out that we would be eating about 15 servings of different foods. It was just overwhelming, with dishes like octopus, lamb chops, sardines, salads, and others that we had no ideas what they were. It was so good that Calvin even drew a drawing on the plate to show his appreciation.

While as hot as the day was, it was just as amazing as the other days staying here in the East Coast. What was displeasing in weather was made up for from the experience. We went to three enjoyable places all in one day: Time Square, Columbia, and the Amada Restaurant.

Lamb Chops
Sweet Desert
Calvin's Drawing

It's Nice to Go Back

The Big Apple, New York City, home of Columbia University was our destination today. It was a fun experience for me to get to go back to Columbia where I studied Constitutional Law last summer. Because I was a little bit familiar with the Amtrack and subway system in NYC, I got to help point our cohort in the right direction. Just stepping off the train at Penn Station in NYC brought back great memories with last years Columbia cohort! 

Big Board.

Train pulling in.

It was unfortunate that we had to visit Times Square during the day and in the record heat because I think that our group was a little disappointed with Times Square because it's not extravagant during the day. If we could see Times Square at night, I think everyone would have been absolutely amazed. Today was odd at Times Square because the whole middle section of Times Square was clocked off for a public yoga session. Primarily women spread out everywhere trying to copy yoga poses from one another.

After leaving Times Square, we went to Columbia where I led the cohort in the wrong direction (I'm sorry for making you guys walk more!) and resulted us walked back across the whole campus to get to the bookstore and then a quick bite at a sandwich shop along Broadway. We then went to the information session and I realized that I don't like Columbia as much now as I did last year. During the information session, the admissions officer kept talking about Columbia's core and why it's so great and makes Columbia, Columbia. The core is essentially a set list of courses that every student must take over the course of four years. The core is very rigid. There isn't a list of classes to choose from that can fulfill the same requirement. There is one class for every requirement. That's why I don't like the core. Maybe Columbia isn't for me.

Times Square
Following the information session, we went on a college tour. I thought I knew all I needed to know about Columbia, but I was wrong. I couldn't recall that the land was purchased from an asylum and that one of the conditions was that one of the buildings from the asylum had to be kept. The result is a building that looks out of place and houses the French department. Also I knew there was a building named the "Northwest Corner Building" but I never knew it was just named that not only because it's located in the northwest corner, but because the alumni are still raising money so they can give the building a different name. Sadly because the college tour went on longer than expected, we didn't get to talk to the admissions officer because we didn't want to miss our train back to Philadelphia.

When we got the Penn Station, we found that our train was delayed for about 20-30 minutes. When the train  arrived, we rushed to the end of the train because every other car was packed, and to our surprise the car we were in was just about empty. We took our seats and began to talk and laugh like it was a normal car, but we ended up getting several dirty looks and were asked to be quiet because the car we were in was a "quiet car". I didn't even know such a car existed!

Our train, number 193 was delayed

Waiting for our train.
Finally, for dinner we ate at Amada a restaurant owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces! I was amazed that we actually got to eat food from a menu designed by a world renown Iron Chef! I never thought that I would get anywhere near eating food from a chef that I watch on Food Network.

At the restaurant, we ordered Chef's Choice which ended up being four courses and about 20 dishes! I thought everything was interesting and delicious except for this truffle lavender honey sauce that can be described as weird and funky.

Overall, today was a fun day! I got to go back to the Big Apple, revisit and learn more about Columbia, and eat food from an Iron Chef's restaurant! Princeton is up next!



Lights, Columbia, Action!

Today we started off with a walk to the 30th Street Amtrak station on the Penn campus.  We knew today was going to be a particularly hot day, but the humidity came like an invisible wall right when we walked out the door.  The 30th Street station is another older looking structure inspired by Greek architecture.  Back in the day it used to be a central post office.  We grabbed a quick bite to eat for breakfast before boarding the train headed toward New York City.

Can You See the New Year's Ball on Top?
The Amtrak ride was a very similar experience to the Amtrak system in the Bay Area.  Most of the ride was above ground, and we were introduced to the greener suburbs of Philadelphia.  I realized yesterday while in the city that we were yet to see a residential area, until today that is. After arriving to New York City we transferred to a subway train, where everything changed as we were greeted by the many lights and sights of Times Square. 

It has been 8 years since the last time I have visited New York, and it was great to come back.  Luxury stores and movie posters decorated the streets and skies as the wide sidewalks were used to hold a yoga program, which consisted of about 200 people total!  Signs for Broadway productions and name brand clothing towered over every building as the New Year’s Eve ball glittered in sight from afar.  Our trip eventually led us to board the train once again headed toward Columbia University. 

The campus presented more of these older buildings influenced by Gothic architecture as we entered campus.  Luckily we had our personal tour guide, Eric, who attended an ILC program at the school last summer.  The campus was smaller than I imagined, much smaller in comparison to Penn, but compact, not lacking any essential features.  The campus, located in West Manhattan, was more urban and less “green” than Penn as well.  Nevertheless, I was given a great first impression of the campus as we soon met Jessica for the info session.
Outside the Columbia campus

The info session and later the tour consisted mostly of the academic structure of the school.  With a required core curriculum, there are not as many options for classes available until you declare your major at the end of sophomore year (at the beginning of sophomore year for the engineering school).  The makeup of the school seemed to have more restrictions than I would have expected, especially in regards to the academics, but nonetheless I felt convinced that this school really leads students down a path to success.  Something that I was impressed with was Columbia’s availability of school counselors and advisors to incoming freshman (about 3:1 ratio) to help them figure out their schedule and life on the campus.  I have always wondered how the adjustment to university life would be, and this method seems to really allow students to have a smooth transition into their new life on campus. 

Columbia Library
Next, Tyler, at rising sophomore at Columbia studying economics and history gave us a tour of the school.  We visited the library and a couple classrooms as Tyler gave thorough explanations of each building’s purpose and gave insights to life on campus as well.  I was impressed that only after one year on campus he was able to provide us with so much information about the school.  One requirement that I found funny was the mandatory swim test that all students have to take to graduate, originating from an old tradition from when the school was founded (at first called King’s College).  Each student, before their graduation, has to swim a vigorous three laps in…three hours!  This tradition is commonly treated as a social event as friends tend to take these tests together.
Anchovies: one of the many delicious dishes
On the way home our train got delayed by about 45 minutes, so we did not have as much time to transition from college touring to dinner.  Amada: a Spanish restaurant about 20 minutes away from The Inn, and one of the most unique dining experiences I have ever had.  The dinner was chosen by the chef, and consisted of 16 simple, but gorgeously prepared plates as well as dessert.  What I appreciated most about this restaurant was the way they accommodated food allergies.  Rachael and I both suffer from food allergies, and they were extremely conscious of this and, if there were a dish that we could not eat, they would bring a just as delicious alternative for us.  The waiter as well as the servers were able to describe each dish as it arrived and illustrated a picture in our mind of what we were about to eat: from what the dish consisted of, where the ingredients originated, and, for Alfredo, a wine that accompanied the meals and again, what it was and where it came from.  This dining experience was fun and was a great time for our group to bond and laugh over the magnificent meal that was presented before us. 

Tomorrow we will make the journey out to New Jersey to visit Princeton University.  We will be getting an extremely early start, but I cannot wait for what another day will have in store for us! 

City That Never Sleeps

Today, I was in charge of wake-up calls which means I had to wake up extra early. After we all met in the hotel lobby, we walked towards the Philadelphia 30th Street Station to go on Amtrak to New York City. Surprisingly the weather was not to hot, but was still in the upper registers compared to the San Francisco Bay Area. Upon arriving at New York City, we were greeted by a temperature in the mid 90s. Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed at my NYC Times Square visit. Once I arrived it was very hot and crowded; it reminded me of Union Square in San Francisco. Well, I guess my expectations of Time Square was a little too high. I realized that the only interesting places in Time Square were where the annual ball-drop is and the Good Morning America studio is. Other than that it was not that exciting, the thrill came more from the fact that I was actually in Times Square rather than the attractions in it.
30th Station in Philadelphia

Good Morning America studio

Different view of the studio
The ball seems to just live there throughout the year
After a quick walk-around in Times Square, we took the infamous subway system of New York to get to Columbia University. We had a quick lunch and went straight to the informational session. During that time, we learned about all the required classes every student needs to take and other interesting information (like how Columbia student need to take a swimming test in order to graduate). After the informational session, we went on a campus tour that seemed to last forever because of the scorching heat. I quickly realized how small Columbia was. Throughout the Columbia visit, I noticed many similarities between Columbia and UPenn in terms of how their academics are run.
Butler Library in Columbia University

Low Library (not a library anymore)
After the visit, we quickly headed back to the subway system to get back to the Amtrak station as to make sure we would not miss our train. However, our train was delayed but only for about 20 minutes (another train was delayed an hour and 15 minutes). Since we got back late, we only had about 20 minutes before we had to head out to dinner. I was a little disappointed that we couldn't have dinner with any of the Columbia admissions officer because the trip from NYC to Philadelphia is too long and the main reason: Columbia admission officers are not allowed to engage in outside activities with prospective students.

Although we didn't get to have dinner with Columbia, we still had a great time with ourselves. We went to a Spanish restaurant called Amada located in Old Philadelphia, a few blocks from Independence Hall. There we order the "Chef's Selection" in which the chef chooses what he wants to make for us (this helped out a lot since there was an array of items on the menu). We ended up having three courses of four to five different dishes per courses. In the end, we were completely stuffed but still managed to wipe the desserts clean. As a token of my appreciation, I ended up drawing a picture make out of melted sorbet on my plate to present to the chef. Amazingly, he turned around and gave me a thumbs-up sign, an okay sign, and a nod of approval. 

Seared Scallops
Lamb Shanks
My art piece for the chef
Overall, today was one of the best days so far. I learned a lot about Columbia University and can now compare the pros and cons between it and UPenn. Although I was a little disappointed with Times Square, going to NYC was an experience all in itself; everything from the people who don't follow the traffic signals to the crazy cab drivers. Tomorrow, we're off to New Jersey to visit Princeton!  

The Summer Solstice

The Enormous Station

We woke up relatively early today (7 AM) so we could catch the train to New York City. As soon as we stepped out of the hotel the heat struck us. Even at 7:45 in the morning the humid heat was already oppressing. Unfortunately we knew it would get much worse. A brief 15 minute walk from out hotel brought us to the Amtrak Station. At the station I had a steak, cheese, and pesto breakfast burrito and my first of MANY water bottles for the day.

The boarding process for the train there was fast and easy, the only issue was the environment of the boarding area, which I'm sure my brief exposure to already shortened my lifespan by a few years. The ride was pleasant and gave me a chance to see more of the East Coast. The difference in environments between the East and West Coasts is easy to see, and I appreciate them both, I could not chose a favorite.

Yoga in the middle of Time Square,
 you know, standard stuff
After we arrived in New York we took the subway to Times Square. Stepping out from the subway we were immediately assaulted by the sweltering heat. As usual Times Square was a bustle of activity and drama. In celebration of the Summer Solstice a clothing company had huge areas fenced off in which hundreds of people gathered to do yoga under the blazing sun. We saw some drama occur when a bus hit another driver's side view mirror.Luckily we left before the swearing starting. Seconds later we were approached by a group of men who handed us their "free" CDs then immediately asked for donations. When we declined, they took their CDs back and moved on in search of more generous prey.

Columbia's Campus
After our adventure in Times Square we took the subway to Columbia University. Thanks to Eric Wang's guidance (he went to the Columbia program last year) navigating through the Columbia area was easy. On the way to lunch we stopped by the gift shop so Rachel could get a sweater for her brother. I was glad to go, since it provided a welcome reprieve from the heat. For lunch we had sandwiches from a local deli. The sandwiches were small, but very tasty and satisfying. After lunch we headed back to Columbia for the information session and tour.

Where they keep the French
During the session (in which we were front row again, sorry no photo evidence this time) I learned a whole lot about Columbia. From its numerous core class requirements to the excellent on campus housing options. Unfortunately, as of right now, it does not seem like Columbia is the school for me. The programs offered are all excellent, the campus is beautiful, and the social aspects seem very appealing, but living in New York City does not appeal to me. I still greatly enjoyed the visit. I am becoming more knowledgeable about all aspects of college, and learning more about what I want to do in my future.

Our our guide told us an interesting story about the one building on campus which looks different and out of place. It is the last remnant  from the insane asylum which occupied that area before Columbia, and apparently home to the French department.

After our tour we began the journey back to Philadelphia. Everything was going exactly to plan until the word "delayed" flashed up next to our train. Luckily we had a deck of cards and the delay was not too long, so we entertained ourselves playing "Old Maid" and "Indian Poker" until the train arrived. The train ride back was a good chance for me to work on my blog, and I spent the whole trip typing away on my I pod.

One of our desert dishes:
chocolate cake and saffron ice cream
After a quick shower and rest time at the hotel it was out again for dinner. We dined at Amada, a restaurant which specializes in tapas. We ordered the chef's choice, and that turned out to be a good decision. Dish after dish arrived, I think we counted seventeen in total. Five appetizers, five cold dishes, four hot dishes, and three deserts. The restaurant was very helpful and compliant with or groups various food allergies. It was an extremely enjoyable experience, and although the environment was much more casual than previous ILC dinners, this meal was definitely another top meal of my life.

After dinner it was back to the hotel for blogging and bed. Then tomorrow its off to New Jersey to visit Princeton University.