New York City – The Big Apple & the home to the best cheesecake and pastrami. Phase 2 – Brooklyn with Louise, Ben & Olive

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July 23rd 2015
Published: July 23rd 2015
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So it’s goodbye to Staten Island. We say au revoir to Joan as we will see her again before we leave NYC, then after a Skype with R&J in Brighton, UK, we set off to Brooklyn and to meet Kaz, the owner of the Isabella (our B & B). He's a lovely chap, Polish but grew up in Tanzania (they have lots of African art in the house). His wife Joanna is a CE of a local Housing Homeless Charity and they import and sell African/Tanzanian sculptures & artifacts to raise money for the Charity to support their work.

The house is a really big place in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn with beautiful wooden floors, big rooms, and tastefully furnished. They have a kitchen we can access for drinks etc and our two rooms also have their own sitting room area and bathroom.

How we booked into this B & B is another story – a bit of a drama in itself as we had originally booked another one months in advance in a nearby area in Brooklyn. Unfortunately due to family circumstances the couple had to tell us that they couldn’t put us up anymore but found us this alternative. This all happened a month before we are due in NYC and despite attempts by everyone (us in New England & Louise/Ben in London) to consider alternatives, after a stressful few days we can’t find anything better for value and location so we go for the offer & it does really pay off.

After a short orientation around the area we head back to Manhattan as we have an appointment at 2-30pm to visit one of the new WTC towers that is under construction courtesy of one of Joan's friends. Unfortunately we get bumped though as the Governor is in town and calls a press conference there so the guy who’d get us in is busy for the visit. Maybe we'll get to go another day.

So we go instead to Century 21, one of the big shops here that sells designer gear at discounted prices. They sell all the major brands e.g. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren etc. and at half the price. Definitely a place we'll come back to. We also get a new data pack for the iPad to see us through our last 10 days. It's more than we need but we can download a film for Olive on it – we hoped but this didn’t work.

It's off to the airport on the A line all the way to Howard Beach on the other side of Brooklyn, where we change and get (for $5 each) onto the Airtrain straight into the Airport. So travel to and from the Airport is pretty easy & affordable.

While waiting for the family we are kept amused by a guy doing what looks like yoga or praying until he lies down on the floor and won't move! Some army and police personnel are called on to help resolve the situation, the area is cordoned off and eventually they get him moved to a bench. We are not sure how it all ended as Louise, Ben and Olive come though. Lots of hugs and it's great to see them – even though Olive is flat out! They had a good flight despite Virgin screwing up their booking for a cot and Olive’s dinner – we can feel a complaint coming on…..

So it’s a cab back to Brooklyn, Ben in front with the young driver discussing politics, religion and IS!! The drive is 45mins and costs about $50. At the B&B, Olive wakes up, and after a few minutes of shyness soon gets back to being inquisitive, cheeky and gorgeous. She wanders around investigating everything and we soon spot lots of things that need moving out of grab range if she and the house are to survive!

The kids are bushed so we order pizza takeout and Lou gets the ‘Tornado’ (Mum’s name for Olive of late) to bed - she's spark out in seconds. Joanne, Kaz' wife who runs the place is lovely and so, so helpful. She offers us a bottle of wine that we can replenish later and suggests we eat at the table in the dining room. The pizzas arrive and C has clearly ordered enough for the whole neighbourhood (though we eat more than we expected to). Anyway, the owner’s grandkids will have the leftovers tomorrow. We finish dinner off with a small amount of the cheesecake we bought from ‘Juniors’ in Brooklyn on the way here - it's supposed to be the best in New York. It definitely tastes pretty good & we’d recommend at least one to try.

We are all up earlyish and after a nice breakfast (included in the price of the B&B) head off to explore what NYC has to throw at us. Unfortunately due to local repair works our main subway into NY is not running as it’s the weekend so we have to walk 1 mile to an alternative Metro. This is not a bad thing though, as the route takes us into areas of Brooklyn we would have never seen. Also the alternative Metro is convenient for others journey’s and there are some good supermarkets and food stalls in that area.

In the Big Smoke we start at Times Square then on to 5th Avenue and the Bear Shop where Olive has a great time. We make our way to Grand Central Station and have lunch at Juniors (they have a small area here unlike their main Restaurant in Brooklyn). We enjoy hot dogs, brisket, pastrami – all NYC famous food and this is a great introduction for Ben who has never been here and seems to have had his arm twisted by Louise to try it out. Helped no doubt by the fact that we treated them to the Air Flights.

We introduce them to Shake Shack to try frozen custard which they really enjoyed. Next it’s down to the Bowling Green area – which is near Wall Street and a must see for Ben as he works in ‘The City’ in London.

As its close by, we take them on the free Ferry to SI and back. Finally it’s back to guesthouse. Olive has been great all day & seems to be quite taken by NYC and the locals as they are with her. She sleeps a bit, walks when she can (a new experience for her and she endeavours even after the occasional stumble - she gets up and carries on). She laughs and smiles a lot and beats C & M combined at the use of FaceTime (FT) on iPad (we can't control her!). The FT & Camera button on the iPad seems to be a magnet for her and her finger goes there automatically – so she takes a host of pictures of herself – some in multi colours & nearly makes the odd call to her Aunty Sarah in London etc.

At the guest house Joanne and Kaz offer us some wine and so we spend some time chatting about life in Brooklyn, NYC, the US, Tanzania & the world. Joanne runs a Housing & Social Service not for profit organisation here. They are really a very friendly and accommodating couple which definitely adds to our experience of Brooklyn & NYC.

Louise, unfortunately, is coming down with a cold and we are all tired so get a Mexican ‘take out’ delivered which is pretty good then try some blueberry cheesecake and it’s off to bed.

It’s Sunday and we are off to our first ever NFL game – the NY Jets vs the Buffalo Bills. We booked this about 4 months ago online as we all wanted to experience a game. The journey takes forever due to the remedial works on the subway; it's the repair works needed since all the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy 2 years ago. We hadn’t quite appreciated the devastation on NYC from the storm and learn that many parts of the subway haven’t fully recovered. So for some folks the transportation situation has obviously been a real pain.

We get to the Jets football ground from Penn Station, then onto the New Jersey Transit and two short rides to Meadowlands - the MetLife stadium. All trains are packed. The stadium holds 82,000 and today's a local derby. The Jets have been poor this season but have improved in last few weeks so hopes are high - sadly, home fans are pretty disappointed; it's a rout!

Our seats are in the gods, but central over the pitch, so we have good views of the action and cheerleaders. Thankfully the weather is pleasant (sunny and not too cold!). Supporters from both teams sit side by side - much more vocal and boisterous than we saw at the baseball games we attended, but still friendly. We try some customary beers (Goose Ale – which is pretty good) and chicken, chips and hot dogs etc. Olive sleeps at first then is amazingly well behaved for the rest of the time – these games can go on for 3 to 4 hours!!

As the game is so one sided & disappointing as a competitive spectacle, we leave at start of the 4th quarter. We are directed to the front of the queue to get back onto the train as we have Olive in a buggy - good one!

When back in Manhattan we go for a wander to Times Square for pictures as its dusk so the neon lights look even better. As we near ‘home’, Louise starts to feel sick so goes straight to bed. We amuse ourselves with Olive (& Ben) for a while, get another Mexican takeout delivered as we are all too tired to do much else - then hit the sack.

The NYC subway is a community in itself and has a life of its own. From the amazing quality of music performed by buskers – they seem to be quite legal - and the variety of performances, it’s quite diverse and a lot better than London, the number of adverts offering financial rewards by the police for information about local homicides, to the number of Evangelists who hop on and off the trains preaching (and not asking for money). It’s pretty tame and nonintrusive. People are also quite friendly and accommodating especially if you have a child with you.

Next morning we make for Brooklyn Central to go to the Brooklyn Bridge Park as it’s supposed to be a great spot for iconic views of the Bridge and Manhattan. It’s a lovel, sunny and clear day and the Park is fabulous. There are plenty of eateries nearby, there’s a lovely play area for kids and the whole area seems peaceful in a pretty crowded city.

At the waterfront they have the Webb Ellis Trophy on show as part of the UK Rugby Union advertising the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in 2015 in the UK. We manage to sneak in to get some pictures with the cup – awesome.

Olive spends some quality time enjoying running around and trying out some of the activities in the children’s park. It’s fun to see her laughing on the swings. For lunch we try the Shake Shack with some pretty good hot dogs and a Chicago burger.

We venture to both sides of the Bridge to get some great views of the NY skyline and the Bridge. It’s time for the big trek – a walk across the bridge. Well worth the effort & we’d say a must do if you have some time! It’s only second to the trip up the Rockefeller Centre for views of New York.

It’s a fabulous experience and we’d highly recommend it. The views and photo opportunities are immense. It's packed even on a Monday. There are great views both ways towards the Statue of Liberty in the distance and of downtown Manhattan ahead.

Next stop its Greenwich Village. It’s popular and trendy with live music in Washington Square Park by a local school orchestra. We enjoy the atmosphere and wander around the central fountain and Arch before making our way to 5th Avenue.

As Ben is a big sports fan – we have managed to get him and Louise tickets to an Ice Hockey game in NYC as a Birthday present. So we get loads of instructions from L & B as we are babysitting Olive for the evening while they are at the game and out with friends from London. L&B head off to meet their friends and we head home with O. Only one emergency when we as novices couldn’t quite figure out how to operate the Buggy – however, we managed in the end and O had a good ride back to base. As we are baby sitting and staying in we decide on a Jamaican take out from Newkirk Plaza (literally by the Subway station). We have Curry Goat and Oxtail; it’s really good value and tastes pretty damn good.

We have a fun evening trying to persuade O to eat what she should i.e. healthy stuff L has left for her but she just seems to love breakfast cereal and banana & not to mention cheesecake (the latter her Mum is none too pleased about). Then it’s her bath time - which she loves - next warm milk and she's out like a light.

Ben books Express tickets for our visit to the Empire State Building, including a trip to the highest (102nd) floor. It seems pricey at $67 each but are complete sanity savers. The normal queues are 2-3 hours long, however, as ‘Express Customers’ we get whizzed past everyone with no queuing at all. Awesome!!

First stop is the 86th floor and the open air deck. Visibility is not as good and crisp as yesterday but still good enough to enjoy the aerial views of Manhattan and beyond. Then it's up to 102nd Floor – again no queueing. This is a glass enclosed area and so although you can see more, it's not really any good for taking crisp pictures. After having our fill of NYC views, we ‘Express’ down again - all in less time than we'd have had to queue for. We can't believe why more folk don't pay for this - there were only 5 of us who got the Royal treatment.

Next it’s a walk towards Central Park for the Children’s Zoo – a treat for Olive. We stop on the way at Ellen's Stardust for lunch. It’s a somewhat famous diner where potential and working actors make up the staff and perform for the diners. L suddenly remembers that she came here when she visited NYC with her school from the UK. The singing performances from the waiting staff – some in character outfits from their shows was pretty impressive and entertaining but the food was crap! We are not quite sure how they got 4 stars on Trip advisor.

We decide to pop into FAO Schwartz for a quick run around for Olive. Ben has said he'll buy her the first thing she touches and C perversely is willing her towards the 5 foot giraffe! It’s a great shop for kids and O thoroughly enjoys herself.

Central Park is a block away and it’s looking pretty autumnal. As we wander through we come across a busker playing ‘All along the Watchtower’ on the double bass and he's good. Olive seems to appreciate it as she dances to the music in her own style and rhythm.

The Zoo, when we eventually get there (O is very easily distracted by leaves! And this being autumn, there are plenty of them in the Park!!) is quite small with only a few animals - though that seems not to matter to little O - she loves the sea lions swimming around and performing, then pretty much falls asleep.

For dinner we've arranged to go to Juliana’s which is supposed to be ‘the best’ pizza in New York, which is just under Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side. Our friend Joan joins us too. It's a great meal - good pizza; we have a couple of specials recommended by the waitress and a ‘build your own’. O seems to enjoy it too. After dinner we take a walk down to the park on each side of the bridge again – this time, to see Manhattan lit up at night and get a few pictures. It's beautiful and a fabulous evening.

As it’s late and the subway isn't straightforward we get a cab home - using Uber, which we haven’t used before though Ben & Lou have in London. It seems very cheap until the driver ‘seems to lose his way’. C resolves it by firing up the iPad but we suspect that the misdirection is a ruse to charge extra for those tourists (like us) who don’t know the area. (We are even more convinced when it happens again the next night when we get another Uber cab coming back from Williamsburg).

Travellers Tip: Something to watch out for it seems. Do not use Uber Cabs in NYC if you don’t know the way to your destination or don’t have a Google Map to ensure the driver takes you back the shortest way!

Next day we have all decided to do our own thing, so Lou & co leave after breakfast to explore and spend more time in Central Park etc, while we stay a little later sorting out a couple of things including sending off CVs for potential interim roles when we get back to the UK. Then into town for some shopping and a possible visit to the Photography Museum (it comes recommended in LP & the write up sounds great) in the afternoon.

However, we have to pass on the Museum visit as we spend so much time shopping (mainly for C this time) and buy so much that we have to go back to the guesthouse before we go to meet the kids for dinner at Fette Sau, a BBQ joint in Williamsburg with a good reputation & recommended by one of L’s best friends who went there. We're running late so ask a policeman the way to the subway line we need; however, he sends us totally the wrong way so we get there very late.

The world seems a lot better after a pint or two and some very good American smoked BBQ food! Which at $200 it should be! Our mistake as the food already cooked and displayed is sold by weight. It all looks so good we ordered way more than we could possibly eat. The upside is that we have ‘take-out’ for tomorrow night too! The Fette Sau, is a really lovely laid back local joint and you can’t book so get there early unless you want to queue for a long while given the numbers waiting to be seated when we left!

Back at the ranch we have blueberry cheesecake we picked up from Juniors and try dosing M up with Jim Beam to fix the cold he seems to have come down with.

M is still suffering the next day, Ben appears to have gone down with it too and Olive is sick in the morning! Not a good start! We head to the International Centre for Photography to see the exhibition; it's Sebastiao Salgado and his Genesis expo. It's good with some great shots and places we'd like to go to but there are no other expos which surprises us. The place is definitely over hyped in the LP guide.

The kids go off to visit the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island - though they don't make the latter which is a shame as that was a priority for Ben. We head to a couple of theatres that have shows on that we like the sound of - Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots. We check out what the options are for booking at reasonable rates. BoM is really expensive - we can see it much cheaper in London. KB is cheaper but we'll have to work out when we could go.

Next stop, it’s Katz Deli for lunch (10 years late & at last) - we've not made it 3 times before!! It’s definitely a NYC gem and a must visit. The whole experience is awesome. A definite historic US dive from the outside in need of a paint job, but that would ruin it, and inside the walls are covered in pics of the famous who've been there. A sign hangs from the ceiling marking out the table from the epic scene in "When Harry Met Sally". The owner also walks the floor chatting to all the visitors which is a nice touch. We order a pastrami Reuben to share with some fries; it's huge and excellent (though the fries are a bit greasy). It's not cheap - almost $30 inc taxes for one sandwich & fries, but we love it. It is an Institution – no question and busy as hell!

It’s down to Wall Street for a few pictures and off to the 9/11 Memorial to meet up with the kids. Unfortunately M is feeling lousy so we skip the 9/11 site - and head off ‘home’ with Olive as we are babysitting again. Lou & Ben are off to the theatre for the night having got discounted tickets on late returns for Kinky Boots – lucky devils.

After amusing and being amused by Olive for a couple of hours we get her to bed and polish off last night’s bbq leftovers. We get a message from Lou that they left their keys in the bag they gave us to bring back so C stays up to let them in. At 10-15pm they call to say they're in the cab so should be half an hour. One and a half hours later C is frantic; no contact, we can't get a response from either of their phones and no sign of them. C goes downstairs wandering if she should call the police, and then there's a hammering on the front door and two smiling faces. Phew! It appears that the Uber cab tried another scam & then they got stuck in traffic and ended up leaving the cab in traffic and walking to catch a train, and both their phones died so they couldn't let us know. At least they had enjoyed the show! Though they ended up with an Uber charge of $100 for a normally $25 -$30 fare. So beware! Ben has complained to Uber about the incident & we hope they will refund some money.

Next day it’s C's birthday. M is still feeling rough and C seems to be going down with the lurgy too! So we have a lie in. Over breakfast C gets cards and pressies from Lou, Ben, Olive & Sarah - a story book to read to Olive, a Chocolate making course and, best of all, Olive’s first painting; that will be framed. (C's pressie from M was a pair of awesome cowboy boots bought in Canada a few months ago – for a ridiculous amount of money he thinks - given that we should have got them when we visited Mexico where they were made).

Later we head into town to walk the High Line near Chelsea. Olive enjoys the chance to walk around - usually in the opposite direction to which we're heading, bless her! Then its lunch at L'ecole - the restaurant at the International Culinary School where you get fine dining at diner prices (though the fizz and wine bumped the bill up quite a bit) as the students do the cooking. It's a good meal and we get a private ante room which is nice. However, O doesn’t quite enjoy being confined in the baby seat so has a bit of a fit.

After a good meal it's off to Macys to do a bit of shopping. We see some things we'll get another day but the kids have lots of things they want to get - it's there last day here, so they carry on while we head to base camp, both feeling pretty rough.

The clan come back a couple of hours later having bought some great stuff and O is definitely making up for being in the stroller most of the day. She's like a kid on acid! Laughing, bouncing on the bed, playing with us and giving C great big hugs. Best way to end a birthday……

On L & B’s final day. C is feeling rough but we go into town for some shopping then to Carnegie Deli for lunch (another NY Institution but more touristy & definitely not as good as Katz!). We have a short 20min wait in the rain. It’s packed and bustling. We try pastrami & brisket sandwiches. O loves the brisket with baked potato, followed by strawberry cheesecake.

So it’s back to the guesthouse & the kids pack, and book a local cab (thanks to Kaz’s recommendation) to the airport (no problems & unlike Uber they charge a fixed rate - only $35). We say our goodbyes to the kids and little O, then settle in for the night with leftovers and a bottle of wine.

Next day it’s our penultimate day and the New York marathon is on and many streets are closed off. We don't see it as we opt for shopping in Macys then off to meet Joan for lunch (she's in town for a Union meeting - on a Sunday!!). We make for Connollys Irish bar across from the Hotel she is attending her conference at - it’s not the not the best choice unfortunately! We say goodbye to Joan and we hope it won’t be another 10 years before we see her again. She’s definitely made our trip to NY more interesting & fun.

As C is still feeling rough we don't stay long, just a little more shopping & pictures on the way back. At the ranch, Joanne & Kaz invite us to have a drink with them (it’s G & Ts), which becomes 2 and a chat about US politics!! As it’s getting late we go to do the packing - unfortunately can't get it all in – obviously we have bought too much to take back with us. We have a very late supper of leftovers & wine and off to bed. Not sure we did sufficient justice to our last night in the US. Never mind perhaps we’ll be back one day…..

C (she has always taken control of this – her OCD side!) has another fight with the suitcases in the morning. Joanne lends us a scale to weigh the bags and with a bit of jiggery-pokery we get them almost ok; let's hope the Virgin check in folk are generous. If not we have a backup with space in our backpacks. Then after a chat with Kaz we head into town.

First stop is Times Square to change some shirts M bought for a bigger size, then stroll to Central Park for a final few pictures of the city skyline and autumnal colours. Lunch is again at Katz Deli & yes another Reuben, before we head back to get the cab to the airport – again only $35 fixed rate.

At the airport we get a few bits at ‘duty free shopping’ and try to download a film to use up out AT&T data balance but it won't work. There’s a short flight delay of an hour but we still land on schedule in London! The Flight isn’t anything special – we watch a couple of films, enjoy a few drinks, snooze a little then get ready for the final leg. It seems to have been a long time away from home this time – maybe it’s having a grandchild that puts a lot of life in perspective on many levels. We are so looking forward to seeing all the family, a few million cuddles with the little Tornado and the start of our next adventure – whatever that may be………….! So watch this space!!


26th July 2015

Happy Birthday C!
What a fantastic holiday and birthday for C! It all sounds wonderful, but I must say, I was most entertained by theperfect grandparent's description of the perfect grandchild, Olive, "inquisitive, cheeky and gorgeous." Enjoy the cowboy boots, almost certainly more expensive, but perhaps more elaborate/creative than you might find in Mexico. Incidentally, rather like Katz but maybe cheaper is Zabar's that I found only my last night there--scrumptious and an institution on the Westside. I'll try both when there next. Ciao!

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