Published: January 10th 2012January 9th 2012
New York is such an imposing, intense, pulsing city, it was no surprise that arrving there on the back of two weeks of beachside relaxation and snorkeling in Roatan, the contrast would seem even more dramatic. New York very soon overwrote everything in our memories as we roamed the city and took in the sights that have been made famous in so many TV shows, movies and stories.
Our first day was New Years Eve and we overdid it by walking through the East Village, then around the edge of the river past Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and up through Wall Street and Battery Park, before we finally limped wearily to the subway for the F train ride back to our cool, renovated synagogue duplex in the East Village. Our landlord Haim had wisely suggested that we purchase weekly unlimited metro passes and our $29 pass was great value for all the trips we took.
New Years Eve day was gorgeous but as night approached the winds picked up and it was extremely cold and wintry. After our big day of walking it was very tempting to stay indoors and watch the Times Square ball drop on TV.
But we were in New York for New Years Eve, so we forced ourselves to head out at 10pm and get into the mood! Our original plan (after researching the Times Square option and finding you needed to be there by 3pm and then not move for 9 hrs, with no bags, toilet breaks etc) was to walk the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight and watch the Statue of Liberty fireworks. After walking past all the bridges earlier that day we realised that the on ramp for the Brooklyn bridge was way uptown, necessitating two subway trips to get home. After riding those trains back home once already, we did not fancy trying it after midnight with millions of people hustling for space. So we thought we would be clever and walk the Manhattan bridge instead. We would not be as close to the fireworks, but should still be able to see them and have the added bonus of views over the Brooklyn bridge as well.
It was a pleasant walk through parts of Soho and Chinatown to reach the bridge and by 10.30pm we were there. But surprisingly, no one else was. We dodged many cyclists zooming past and
shared hello's with a few photographers in key possies, but other than that, we had the bridge to ourselves. So we walked across to the Brooklyn side and then slowly made our way back toward the centre for the best views. The most excitement and sense of celebration was when a few large and friendly groups of runners crossed the bridge headed for Central Park and the midnight NYE run. It wasn't quite the busy, crowded start to 2012 that we had anticipated, but it was a pretty cool way to see in the New Year. And walking back past a few too many young women vomiting outside of night clubs in SoHo and the East Village, we were happy we had missed some of the crowds.
Following New Years Eve, we started to tick off the places/things that most interested us. Sunday (New Years Day) included time walking through Central Park, watching the iceskaters and the radio controlled boats on the lake, being crushed in the crowds along Fifth Avenue and being blown away by the Bergdorf Goodman Christmas windows. The crowds in this part of town were overwhelming and we soon escaped to quieter parts of the
On Monday morning we caught the free Statten Island ferry and caught our first up close view of the famed Statue of Liberty as well as great views of the city from the river. Everyone has to depart the ferry at Statten Island, where we had the unexpected bonus of sourcing New York's cheapest giant pretzels - at 3 for $2. Piper was very happy!
We checked out the popular Century 21 store, where Taylor scored a very smart designer casual jacket. What is it about 6ft plus tall beanpoles that look good in pretty much anything they try on? But overall this shop reminded us why we don't like to shop in department stores. A mess of stuff and crowds of people fighting their way through it. We got much better deals in a much more pleasant environment at Old Navy, Gap and Zara over the next few days.
Tuesday night was a real highlight for us - our long booked seats at Memphis: The Musical, playing at the lovely old Schubert Theatre, just off Broadway. We wandered around Times Square before the show, despite the freezing weather - including a quick visit for Taylor
at the overpriced Hersheys store, and then settled in for a completely engaging, fun and thoughtful musical about the introduction of black R & B music to a white audience in Memphis in the 1950's. Fantastic music with a brilliant cast and an interesting story. If you get the chance to see it, we highly recommend it. We all loved it.
Of course New York is famed for its brilliant museums and galleries, so we left the boys at home one morning, when they were feeling a bit sick from the cold and ducked out to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, an absolutely enormous space filled with pretty much everything of note! You could spend a week here and not see everything. Our time was limited to about 3 hrs and we barely touched the surface - but did see some fantastic Turkish, Iranian and Arabic art, lots of very famous modern and contemporary paintings and artworks and some striking Island sculptures and totems.
We also purchased some photographic equipment for our cruise business from the most amazing photographic store on the planet. B & H is a huge store over two levels that has everything that any
amateur or professional photographer or videographer could ever wish for. And the system is phenomenol. Within about 30 seconds of requesting a product from one of the sales experts in that particular area, the goods were at his feet. This order was then added to our next order - all via hidden conveyor belts - and collated at the pick up and payment points. To add to the New York feel of this place, it is staffed almost entirely by Orthodox Jewish men, with their ringlets and yarmulkas. You almost feel like you have walked into a Synagogue - but one turning over an awfully huge amount of money. There is no recession going on in this place. Great business case study - service plus!
No visit to New York these days would be complete without paying respects at the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. The security check is rigorous and could be better organised but within about 20 minutes of arriving (at our prebooked time) we were out in the expansive park area with the two large memorial fountains. It is difficult to conceive, even when in the space, that the two enormous World Trade Centre buildings were once
located where the memorials now stand. The engraved names and details of the dead -eg flight number, ladder number...are poignant and moving and the fountains are beautiful and appropriate symbol of the catastrophic events on Sept 11, 2001. I was particularly affected by mention of the pregnant women who died with unborn child. But the extreme cold weather took away from our ability to really stand still take it all in and it will be a more fulfilling experience when the adjoining museum is built and opened. We left wanting to hear personal stories and know more of the plans for the site. The new skyscraper is also still under construction.
On our last day full day we took the boys to get some art and culture, with a vsiit to MOMA - The Museum of Modern Art. I have been here many years before and loved it but visiting with a 13yr old who likes to disparage Art at the best of times was probably not the best idea. Still relished seeing the art - especially the brilliant de Kooning Retrospective. He is an artist I was not that familiar with and seeing his life's work in one
show, was inspiring. Especially when he moved past the somewhat misogynistic female nudes and onto fantastic explorations of colour and form and abstract expressionism. Absolutely brilliant.
Our base on 1st St was very spacious and comfortable and really well situated for great food. Just two doors up from us was a tiny Punjabi Indian takeaway and grocery - turning out a large plate of 3 fantastic vegetarian curries and rice for $5. Hard to beat that value. Then on the next corner a wonderful little Thai (Tai Thai) with very authentic Thai curries. We got over our Central American diet of rice, beans, tortillas and chicken with these delicious meals. New York is also known for pizzas and the best and most famous - Rays - was right across the road. We made the mistake of ordering two large pizzas for the four of us, without realising how enormous these are. None of us could eat more than 2 slices. So we got to enjoy Rays Pizza's for two nights, instead of one. Our tips - Ray's Famous Vegetarian and the Chicken and Tomato, were better than the Ray's Special.
We were also only a couple of blocks
from the amazing Whole Foods store. A shrine to organic, trendy and unusual food and groceries. It really is an experience - but one more suited to yuppies and dinks. The prices are very expensive. So after our first quick shop, just after we arrived, we found a better value "Key Foods" supermarket a few blocks in the other direction. No ambience or glamour sadly but more attuned to our budget.
Another aspect of our stay was the laundromat experience. Despite our apartment being large it had no washing machine and nowhere to hang hand washing, so fortunately for us the Up and Up Laundromat was just around the corner in Avenue A. We saved up a weeks washing plus lots of summer gear from Roatan and I ran back and forth to the washing machines and dryer. The Asian ladies running the shop were very helpful to a novice laundromat user and for just $7.50 I had 3 large bags full of washing done and dried, in about 2 hours.
We have now left New York with so many things we could have done and seen left to do - we needed much more than a week
- but it was a great introduction for the boys and having only visited on business trips in the past, I loved just being a tourist this time. New York was fun, exhausting and competely unique. There really is no place on the planet like this.