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Published: October 1st 2018
We’re now four and a half days into our seven day visit to New York City and so time to start this blog. We’ve also had a slightly quieter day today in an effort to give Terry’s sore feet a bit of rest. We arrived here last Monday after a very early (3:00am) start in Los Angeles, 6:00 am departure followed by a 5-hr flight to NYC. By the time we collected our luggage, caught a taxi and crawled through the heavy traffic at JFK it was probably about 3:30 pm before we reached our apartment in the Clinton Hill district of Brooklyn. Once again, we are staying in an AirBnB and chose to stay in Brooklyn rather than with the throngs of other tourists in Manhattan. Our apartment is lovely, a 1-bedroom affair in a new building with the area described as “hip” – I figured we’d fit right in. We also felt that it might give us a better feeling of what it’s like to live in NYC. Well, I think that it’s doing that.
Our first activity after arriving was to get a few provisions and to explore the local area – find the subway, suss out
the restaurants and bars and find a supermarket. So off we go, turning left at our closest intersection (De Kalb and Franklin) – not a restaurant to be seen, nothing that looks like a supermarket and lots of street rubbish with broken garbage bags spewing their contents on the road. This didn’t look promising, so we turned right at the next corner and proceeded down the street passing between the guys dealing drugs and counting their money and up to the next main street. I was beginning to wonder what I’d got us into. The next part of our walk, up Lafayette Ave, looked a little nicer than De Kalb, with better-maintained brownstone houses lining a tree-lined street. I’m pleased to report that the area is nicer than my original impression – sure there’s rubbish but not as much as that first day, the people are friendly, the supermarket and deli is well-stocked with lots of interesting food, the 88th
Precinct of the NYPD have their station two blocks away and it’s relatively quiet (in comparison to Time Square that is). And we’ve been to the local bar where the patrons were friendly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness
of people here and their willingness to provide advice and answer questions – especially on the subway.
So, what have we done? I’d purchased a New York Pass before arriving and so this gave us a selection of tours to choose from. We started our visit with a tour on the Hop On Hop Off bus with the thought that this would help us get our bearings. Good in theory but the scuds of rain coming through made this form of sightseeing quite unpleasant. The UN General Assembly is currently meeting and so some of the main streets around the UN Building are blocked off which has had the effect of making the traffic in some Midtown streets even worse than normal. I saw a sign somewhere that said something like, “Don’t drive, Take the Subway, Your trip will take 3 times longer than normal this week”. After sitting in non-moving traffic in the rain for some time we ended up getting out and walking. At one stage we even ended up in Madam Tussauds trying to escape from the wet – sadly our knowledge of current celebrities left us wondering who some of the figurines were, but we
did recognise some of the more historic characters and celebs from earlier periods. It’s fair to say our first day was a bit of a washout. By late afternoon we were in the financial area and decided to find somewhere to eat and drink to avoid the crush on the peak-hour trains. We were obviously walking in the wrong areas as we had real problems finding somewhere that wasn’t fast food or a coffee shop – we did eventually succeed.
Our second day was more successful – we started with a walk through the historic South Street Seaport area followed by a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and the attached museum. This is a very moving tribute to the almost 3000 people killed in those attacks and consists of two reflecting pools set in the footprints of the two towers. The museum houses artefacts removed from the devastation, has a minute-by-minute description of what happened on the day and has short snippets from interviews of survivors and victim families. We spent a lot longer there than I thought we would. We also joined the masses catching the free Staten Island ferry out to the island. The ferry provides great
views of The Statue of Liberty, Manhattan and Brooklyn. By the time we returned to Manhattan it was getting to rush hour and so we headed to the Empire State Building. It was dusk when we arrived at the first viewing area on the 80th
floor and by the time we made it to the outside viewing area on the 86th
floor it was dark and so we had a great view of the lights. Once again lots of crowds – there’s no way that Cary Grant would have found Deborah Kerr up there (on Wednesday evening) even if she’d managed to make their rendezvous.
Yesterday (Thursday) has been my favourite day so far. We left the subway early and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, from the Brooklyn side to Manhattan, using the elevated pedestrian walkway and bike path. The pathway is a bit over 1 mile long and caters to locals and tourists alike. The tourists are armed with cameras and dawdling but the locals are mainly zipping by on bicycles and ringing their bells to warn the pedestrians walking down the bike path. There were great views of the Manhattan. After an unsuccessful side trip to purchase
½ price theatre tickets in Times Square we headed to The High Line for a stroll along this park built along a disused, elevated rail line. The rail line was originally built in the early 1930s to remove freight trains from street-level tracks – these trains carried produce, meat and dairy from the wharves on the Hudson River to factories in the Meat Packing District and Chelsea. Train use dwindled between the 1960s to1980s as trucks began to be used to transport freight. There were calls to demolish the line but in the early 2000s a couple of local guys who appreciated the wild plants that had grown on the disused line promoted the line and the City eventually rezoned it as a public park. It’s very attractive and at lunchtime the numerous seats are occupied by fashionable young workers eating their large bowls of yummy-looking salads. There were butterflies flitting between flowers and grasshoppers hopping in amongst the grasses, but I didn’t notice any birds. It’s only detraction from my point-of-view was the noise. I think NYC is the noisiest city that I’ve visited. There’s always a horn honking, siren wailing or something being wacked as part of the
enormous amount of construction going on. We’ve both been surprised at how much new construction there is. After a subway ride, a detour into a photography store and a pleasant stop in Bryant Park we eventually made it back to Time Square so that I could stand in line to purchase ½-price tickets to a Broadway show. Terry was not enthusiastic but agreed to go as I was keen. We went to see “Kinky Boots” and both really enjoyed it. The guy who played Lola was excellent and I was amazed at the athleticism of the guys who played the drag queens in the Angels – how anyone could walk, let alone dance, in those heels is beyond me.
Today was a much quieter day. We went to the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum. This museum is housed in the decommissioned USS Intrepid, a US aircraft carrier that saw service between 1943 and 1974. During WW2 she was active in the Pacific, during the Cold War she was in the Mediterranean and also saw service during the Vietnam War. She was also the recovery ship for some NASA Gemini and Mercury space missions. She had a complement of
about 3000 officers and enlisted men, could sail at 60 km per hour and had 4 props providing 150,000 HP. The highlight for me was the extra tour we did of the Concorde that is parked on the adjacent pier. This is Alpha Delta, one of just seven British Airways Concordes that was used commercially – the French had another seven commercial craft and there were six others built in the development process. We were surprised at the relatively spartan nature of the fit out. The seats were no better than economy class seats on today’s aircraft, the toilet cubicles were tiny and the windows miniscule (to account for the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the plane). These aircraft flew at 50000 feet and Alpha Delta holds the record for fastest Atlantic crossing of any aircraft. The museum also has the Space Shuttle Enterprise on display, thankfully inside as it was a cold, windy day for our visit. There’s also lots of other defence aircraft on display on the deck of the carrier but for me they all started to blur into one after a short time – and it was freezing out there. We left the
museum and returned home after a visit to our local bar. Terry’s feet are sore, so an earlier day today has hopefully given him a chance to rest them for our last two days sightseeing in NYC.
Over the last few days we (I suspect Terry really) have been approached a few times by orthodox Jewish males asking if we were Jewish. Each of these blokes has been carrying a bunch of greenery. My inquisitiveness eventually got the better of me and so I asked the 2 teenagers that last approached us what it was all about. Unfortunately, they couldn’t speak English (not sure if they were non-Americans or very isolated by their religion) so I asked an older guy. It’s for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a week-long celebration of the gathering of the harvest. The greenery is known as the 4 Kinds and are particular plants bound together and used as part of a prayer. Observers of the holiday also eat all their meals in a temporary structure known as the sukkah and I’ve noticed a few of these structures set up on the balconies of some of the apartments across the road from ours.
security measures in NYC are obvious everywhere. On the subway trains periodic announcements encourage passengers to report anything suspicious, the busiest streets and areas are protected by the bollards that are a feature now of many city streetscapes, entry to major tourist attractions is via a metal detector and bag X-ray scanner and it’s not unusual to see security personnel and their dogs on the street or in tourist areas. We chatted to one security man who told us that the dogs were explosives/bomb sniffing dogs. They are mostly Labradors, they take 2 years to train and his dog lives with him.
We’ve now had another 2 days of exploration. Yesterday we toured the Lincoln Center, walked through Central Park and visited the dinosaurs at the American Museum of National History. We learnt that the Lincoln Center was built in the 1950s after JD Rockefeller III led a consortium to raise the money for the project. The 16+ acres of land had previously been the home to a large Afro-American and Puerto Rican population before being declared a slum and a target for urban renewal. Apparently JDR3 purchased the land for 3-point-something million dollars and donated it to the
project – these days that figure would not buy a 2-bedroom apartment in the area. The complex has multiple theatres and is home to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. The campus of the Juilliard School is also on the site. That was our exposure to the “high” arts done and dusted. Next stop Central Park. We’d both wanted to spend time exploring Central Park, so it was amazing that it took us 5 days before we managed to visit, but we picked a perfect day weatherwise to visit. As you can imagine lots of locals and tourists enjoying the perfect Saturday weather – softball, carriage rides, running, cycling, picnicking etc. The Central Lawn section of the park was closed for the Global Citizen Festival, a musical event featuring R&B stars including Janet Jackson and attended by about 60,000 people – reckon we saw most of them lined up as we walked past. Our final event from our New York Pass was a trip to the museum. This is what I think of as an “old-fashioned” museum with dioramas of taxidermied animals placed in front of painted backgrounds depicting their habitat plus cases
of ancient artefacts etc on display. However, they have the world’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils, the centre-piece of which is the recently uncovered titanosaur from Argentina, Patagotitan mayorum. The 84 fossil pieces that were found in 2014 served as the basis for the Museum’s 122-foot-long model – they estimate the animal weighed 70 tons.
Our last day was spent exploring the ‘hood. We’ve covered a fair bit of ground today walking through some lovely neighbourhoods on our way to Prospect Park. Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park; it’s not as large but was designed by the same guys that designed Central Park. It’s very pleasant but nowhere near as busy as Central Park. Only a handful of tourists and most of the patrons are local families out enjoying the outdoors – playing sport, picnicking, dog walking, cycling and running etc. We’ve both been surprised at how quickly the feel of a neighbourhood can change – within a block or so you can go from a poor area with broken footpaths, poor housing, stunted or no trees and lots of rubbish to a fashionable area with renovated housing, large shady trees and well-maintained footpaths.
Tomorrow we substitute our shorts and sandals for woollen socks and down coats as we travel from NYC to Tromso in northern Norway, via Helsinki.
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