Published: October 5th 2011September 29th 2011
Gone to my ladies head,
I tried to tell my women
but they don't believe a word that I said
(Apologies to Jimmy Reed for lyric amendments.)
It didn't take much more than a walk along Broadway on the night we arrived for my daughter to inform me that she could live in this place. My wife wasn't far behind. There are a lot of lively cities around the world but New York does seem to take the cake. It isn't just the level of unremitting activity nor the amount of shops. It isn't just about the icons of US life that seem to be everywhere. It is all of those but it is mostly about the people. Difference could probably sum them up but it isn't really a wide enough term.
There are people in this city from everywhere. Go to Tokyo and you will find a very large city with a lot going on but almost everyone you see and hear is Japanese and they are nearly all speaking Japanese with a Tokyo accent no less. Go to Mexico City and it is the same, albeit a little less law abiding than Tokyo for the most
part. London comes closest but it seemed to us still to be essentially English and, well, more organised. Perhaps the Poms are better at swallowing other cultures.
New York, or at least the bit of Manhattan we were in, seemed to cover people from all over. Some may have been tourists but, on the street, there seemed to be accents from everywhere, languages from all sorts of other countries, people of all colours and types. A man in bright yellow tights with a stunning hair-do swanned up Broadway in the mid-afternoon and the only people who paid attention were a couple of young girls who giggled and a few tourists who peeked surreptitiously. I have developed the theory, with no support from anywhere, that the New York accent has developed as way of allowing English to 'cover' all other accents.
Our apartment was in Upper West Side, Manhattan, just 20 metres off Broadway. There was supposed to be parking nearby so we were to drive in. I was just a llittle apprehensive but, hey, I had successfully negotiated a Milanese peak hour. What could be harder? Well thankfully not New York at peak hour. We arrived in the
rain, came off a bridge and suddenly we were negotiating Manhattan and it wasn't really all that traumatic at all. Found our street and across the road was a parking garage. They wanted good money but they parked the car for the next 6 days and that was that.
Our luck held with the apartment we had booked. The registration process didn't bode well. Just one person on the desk handling phones as well as the queue of mainly foreigners trying to check in. A Ukrainian lady with a good sense of humour and who seemed pretty efficient but dealing with issues that, at the very least, indicated that some of the apartments had some serious deficiencies. When our turn finally came we were ready to use some violence against any queue jumpers or others who felt the need to complain about what they had been allocated. Perhaps we were lucky or maybe just nice but our apartment was very good. Sarah's bed was pretty dysfunctional but you can't have everything and she is young so could handle it.
To say there are shops here is a massive understatement. Manhattan has had a rack 'em and stack 'em
approach to housing for many, many years and just the population of this borough would support shops of every type and description. To add to the market, as if it needs it, there are masses that flood into Manhattan every day to work in any one of the high rises that are par for the course here. Apparently, there are always great squads of tourists. Then you have the people from other boroughs that come here to shop, perhaps because they don't have enough of their own? The ladies were in some kind of heaven. Not that they bought all that much, I suppose, but there was so much to look at and so many shops that they had only ever heard about in magazines. They found one that they leapt upon with more than usual gusto and disappeared for an hour and a half. True to US shopping centre protocol, not a seat to be found in the surrounding region.
The internet had informed us that one of the best ways to organise ourselves to see some of the sights was to buy a New York Explorer Pass available from the Visitors Centre. You can select the number
of attractions or activities you wish to see or do respectively. Depending on what you want to see and do you end up saving at least the price of one of the things and you are supposed to be able to skip queues. Our previous experience of these things convinced us to get one. Jumping the queues was the most important consideration.
A tour around the city area on a HOHO Bus is often a good way of orienting oneself and proved to be the case again. Walking the streets is also a good way to get to know an area and we did that too, wandering through Central Park, along Broadway, a number of the Avenues, having a look at Times Square and basically checking out famous place after famous place.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was special. I guess this would have to have been one of the must sees for us and it was as good as we had hoped.We spent our few hours in there poking through a special exhibition of the work of de Kooning – that was patchy for us with only some of it of much interest – but then
there were a lot of works of Cezanne, Dali, Kahlo, Matisse, Monet, Picasso etc etc. We missed a couple of exhibits that Sarah had a chance to see and enjoyed but you cannot do it all.
The Guggenheim was a slightly different story. We have visited the Guggenheim in Bilbao in Spain and were keen to see the one in New York which we thought would be at least as good. There were two exhibitions on. The main one was a Korean artist called Lee Ufan with another featuring Kandinksy. Lee Ufan's Making of Infinity was perhaps OK from a design point of view but it clearly required interpretation that was way out of my league. Random rocks, swipes of paint on otherwise clean canvas and the like. The Kandinsky exhibition was better but there was little else to see. Luckily we found a bar on the way back to the apartment and the pain gradually faded.
Ellis Island was on the list for Pat and I. There is a chance that my grandfather came through here many years ago en route to Canada and we were interested in having a look at the place. We successfully negotiated
the subway and found our way to the place we needed to validate our Explorer Passes. Then we found that the line we had to join was the same one as all normal ticket holders. That line was at least 500 metres long. It eventually got moving and then we found that they had an airport style security screening. We had with us tucked away in a handbag a Swiss Army knife and they found it. We bailed out of the ferry ride and missed out on Ellis Island. A pity.
I have to say that we were just a little less than impressed with some of the icons. The Empire State building didn't really stand out that much from those around it. Times Square isn't really that big when you consider other 'squares' in other cities. Plenty of life and plenty of people and a lot of spectacular billboards but, well, not as big as I had expected. On the billboards, there are so many that you don't register what each is about, it's just a mosaic of flashing colours - which is the good thing about them probably.
Broadway is an interesting street with some theatres
and 5th Avenue has a lot of shops but there are, after all, streets like these in many big cities. Central Park, on the other hand, did live up to expectations. An excellent park in the middle of a massive city and very well used, particularly on weekends.
The restaurants, bars and diners were also excellent. Good quality and good value. Sarah had her feed of lobster and she had her experience sitting in a bar, at the bar, watching football on a Sunday. We found another bar that had a long 'happy hour' with half price for all drinks. A very good idea and the place was packed. If turnover can keep a place alive this bar will be there a while.
A photo walking tour of China Town and environs was a very good option for us. A bit of instruction from a skilled photographer and then we were taken off around interesting places to try out the advice we had received. Fun but I am not sure that my photos are any better. A very nice Chinese feed for lunch that day.
We intended to do a bike tour across the Brooklyn Bridge but
failed in that. Entirely my fault. I forgot the tickets. Unfortunately, to get there on time we had to juggle subways and do a power walk thing for 6 blocks. I didn't realise that I had forgotten them till we were at the door. (But at least it wasn't MY Swiss Army knife.) Rain, which had been forecast all week, arrived and would have wet us all so we consoled ourselves at a happy hour we found on the way home.
Needless to say we enjoyed New York. We won't be going there to live but perhaps Sarah will make it. There are certainly plenty of buildings for her architect to play with.
From here it is down to West Virginia, into Kentucky and Tennessee. We plan on heading back over to the coast to see Charleston and Savannah before turning right again for New Orleans. We have just 2 months to go and a little discipline may be called for. But perhaps not. We have made it this far without any.
There are more photos below