An apple a day - New York City

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April 9th 2016
Published: May 30th 2016
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I think, when most people say they are going to New York City, they mean Manhatten, only one of the five boroughs which make up the whole of NYC. This was certainly true in our case and we had chosen accommodation which was central to exploring Manhatten. The Radio City Apartments were located slap bang in the middle of the Theatre district, just off Broadway and around the corner from Times Square. Perfect. The building itself was Art Deco in style (as are a lot of buildings in New York), there were still some vestiges of its heritage from that time, our room was small but perfectly formed and would do us just fine for our time in the city.

We slept late on our first morning. A quick foray I made outside confirmed it to be still very cold and we wrapped ourselves up well before setting out to explore – I had four layers on and sorely tested the button-fastening abilities of my raincoat. A street vendor just outside the hotel was selling hats, gloves and scarves but I was reluctant to buy even more clothing for the relatively short time we were going to be there. I dug out my versatile shawl and used it as a scarf - though it was a little too delicate to be totally effective it plugged the gaps and was long enough to wrap round my head as well, to become a snood if necessary. We decided to explore the local area on foot on our first day, then buy tickets for the red Hop On Hop Off buses to wander further afield from the next day.

It was freezing – bone-numbingly cold. The city is well known for being built on a grid system and the bitter wind whistled down the streets with no twists or turns to stop it. We spent some time in Times Square which isn’t really a square at all, which surprised me. It was just as bright and flashy as you see on telly though, so we weren’t disappointed in that respect. The Naked Cowboy seemed impervious to the cold, however, and wandered around in only a pair of boots and his underpants! We popped into Bryant Square (NYC has lots of small, green spaces, not just the vast Central Park) which the lady in charge told us had an outdoor reading room with a free library and newspapers, a carousel for the children and it held bird watching events and spelling Bs throughout the year. It was a nice thought and on a sunny day it would be lovely but on a day like today there were no readers, no children and no birds (well, apart from one pigeon which had puffed its feathers up to keep warm but still looked decidedly chilled and bedraggled). We walked down to Grand Central Station and, again, it was just as impressive as we had hoped. We chatted with a young man who was working on the Ground Zero Tower, pouring concrete (he used to be a chef so I’m not sure what skills he had for pouring concrete!) and he showed us videos he had taken on his phone from dizzying heights. He recommended the viewing platform at Ground Zero for the best views. Steve was rarely with me when I was in my ‘meet the locals’ mode so it was great to have him with me on this occasion – as a result I now have a photo of me with a Ground Zero worker and rather plumptious he was too though I look like a blimp so no-one will be seeing it! We headed for the Empire State Building (we thought) but got it wrong and ended up at the Chrysler Building. An elderly lady waiting for a bus saw our confusion and put us right – she showed us photos on her phone of the Empire State Building which she could see from her apartment. We stopped into a ‘soup and sandwich’ shop to get some brief respite from the wind and get warmed through. Our ‘glow’ lasted all of fifteen minutes after our lunch before the chill soaked into us again and we eventually dipped into the City Library to heat up again, passing through a security check on the way in (and again on the way out!). This was a magnificent building (and it was warm!) so we spent some time in there before venturing out again. After several miles on the streets, when our digits had lost all feeling, we retraced our steps homewards. We passed one of the fire stations that had played such a key role in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 events and took photos of the fire engine outside. Sirens and alarms were the backdrop noises and were pretty constant with vehicles on ‘blues and twos’ forcing their way through the often gridlocked traffic – Steve loved it. We were pleased to make it back to our hotel were thankful for the warmth and quiet.

The next day it rained – that sort of freezing rain that really drenches you through. I added yet another layer beneath my coat (five now!) and topped everything off with my cagoule. Sartorially elegant I was not! We bought a package of tickets for the sightseeing HOHO buses, which would cover Manhatten for us. Our first trip was on the Downtown route and the rain was so heavy we were obliged to sit downstairs and watch the rain from the open-topped upper-deck literally pour down the stairs. We spent a lot of time going nowhere through the grid-locked Times Square and, as we couldn’t see much at street level, it was pretty grim. The guide (Phyllis) ran out of things to tell us about Times Square so she started telling us how wonderful she was instead, and touting for a tip. In the end we got off and walked to the erstwhile Twin Towers area, quite sure we weren’t missing anything she might have to offer. It was still raining, and still cold, and the Observation Deck at One World Trade Centre was offering zero visibility so we didn’t go up. Nevertheless, we spent a lot of time exploring at street level. The footprint memorial was very moving, with all the names of those who lost their lives on that day listed on the sides. Some single flowers were all the more poignant on such a grey day. We visited the nearby St Paul’s Chapel which had miraculously survived 9/11 unscathed and we were pleased to see the Bell of Hope, given to the city by the people of London.

We were eventually able to locate the HOHO bus stop to continue our bus trip and the rain had stopped, thankfully. Though still very cold it was at least fine and was that the sun trying to peep through the clouds? Ever the optimists, we decided to sit on the upper deck and tough it out. The narrator for this journey was the complete opposite of our first experience. He was informative and amusing and regaled us with a constant commentary and relevant anecdotes. We saw Trump Towers, the Garment District, the Statue of Liberty, Manhatten and Brooklyn bridges, the Hudson River, East River (sings – ‘East River, la di da’ (Brecker Brothers)) and Wall Street, Macy’s, the Flatiron and the Empire State Buildings, Greenwich Village, Soho, Chinatown and Little Italy and we shivered but persevered. Steve wore his ‘bin bag’ coat in an effort to stop the cold getting through to his bones, so it must have been really cold. We got off to explore a little on foot and saw the ice rink at the Rockefeller Centre but the cold was relentless and we headed back to our toasty room after a bite to eat only to discover that the radiator in the room was stone cold! Brrrr – not what we needed. Happily, the handyman came quickly and the problem was soon resolved though it took us longer than we would have liked to get warmed up again. Could the weather get any worse?

The next day it sleeted – so yes, it could. I wore six layers beneath my raincoat and cagoule, straining every seam and button. We caught the Uptown HOHO bus and opted for the upper deck again, though we were the only ones brave (or stupid) enough to do so. We travelled through the Upper West Side and saw Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building where John Lennon had met his death but it was covered in scaffolding. We rode right around Central Park and the homes of the rich and famous were pointed out to us but my brain had atrophied by this stage and I can’t remember who they were. We saw the Central Park Zoo where the animals had mainly decided to stay inside to keep warm, and who could blame them? We travelled through Harlem and saw the Apollo Theatre and the Guggenheim, Smithsonian and Natural History museums. By the time we got off the bus back in Times Square we felt like blocks of ice and couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel where Steve tried to check us onto our homeward flight online, but the system let him down – maybe the ether had frozen in the sub-zero temperatures? Nevertheless, he was able to arrange the shuttle bus back to the airport so that was something.

On our last day in NYC it snowed. OK it was sleety snow, but it was snow all the same. We were woken by a phone call from home to tell us we had run out of central heating oil and Steve had to order more, quickly. The wonders of the internet age – ordering oil from thousands of miles across the Atlantic for delivery to a tiny village in Yorkshire! We hoped it would be delivered quickly and asked our house-sitter to turn on every independent source of heating we had at home, including the oven, to keep the house warm. We checked out of our hotel and hit the frigid streets again. The day was still grey and miserable – and still freezing – and this time we opted to catch the HOHO bus back to the Empire State Building where we hoped the clouds might clear enough for us to catch a view from the top. No chance. Still zero visibility. The entrance was grand though, and I stood on top of the floor display as this was as close as I was going to get to being on top of the Empire State Building!

We were catching our flight home this evening. Steve decided to donate his remaining change to some of the many street beggars. He decided the guy watching videos on his I-phone could manage without so he divided it between a woman surrounded by all her belongings, a guy in a stupor and a man with no legs. He got not one word of thanks. We returned to our hotel and waited for the airport transport service to take us to JFK airport. It arrived 30 minutes late but then the driver took every short-cut he could think of to get us there on time, three hours before our flight. ‘No rush’ we thought. We checked our luggage in, discovered our initial seats booked all those months ago were still allocated to us (yay, because we had paid extra for them!) and then did what anyone who had almost missed a flight by not going through to the departure lounge immediately, and wandered off to kill time outside (no, we never learn).

We eventually went through to the departure lounge with no queue issues this time (plenty of staff and well organised), and we boarded our BA jumbo jet plane at 8.30 pm, due to arrive at Heathrow on the morning of 10 April 2016, a full six calendar months since first setting off. We’d had an amazing time and I couldn’t believe it had ended.

Final thoughts on New York City? Well, it was nothing like any of the other places in America that we had visited. It was very loud, very ‘in your face’ and very impersonal. Everyone expected a tip, even for below average, verging on the unacceptable, service and they stood in front of you trying to intimidate you into pushing cash into their hands, regardless, just to make them go away. I don’t think so .... It seemed to have a strange method of rubbish disposal, with everything bundled up and left on the street for overnight collection which meant the piles of rubbish grew ever bigger during the course of the day and made the streets look dirty and neglected. We saw no vermin there though; we didn’t see even one cockroach, and I thought the whole city would be infested (too much telly ...)! The traffic was VERY bad. Nevertheless, the place is stuffed to the rafters with historical references, from both the far distant and very recent past and we barely scratched the surface. We’ve hardly ever revisited places we have travelled to (the world is too small a place) but I would certainly revisit New York, preferably in the summer, when we could savour the experience in more depth in the sunshine and warmth!

Final thoughts on America (now please don’t be judgmental – I recognise my failings ... !):

•The light switches are all the opposite way round (up for on and down for off);

•The cars beep their horns, not once but twice, when you press the button on the key fob to lock the doors. They do this very loudly, even in the middle of the night;

•The local, specific driving rules are pretty confusing;

•The supermarket cashiers pack single items into carrier bags with gay abandon and if you try to do your own packing to save the planet it is frowned upon;

•The bank notes are all the same size and pretty much the same colour, which doesn’t help with a speedy exit from the check-out line;

•The price you see is not the price you pay. Tax is added at the till so we tended to proffer notes to cover the amount (whatever it might end up being) and the accumulation of change was a constant nightmare;

•We didn’t like the spicy food at all, especially all the chilli flavoured stuff which was everywhere;

•I really hadn’t been looking forward to our visit. I had visions of violent street-crime on every corner, loud, abrasive locals, bigots, rednecks, extremely fat people, lots of beautiful people and not much of a welcome (though I’d heard the Brits were quite liked I had also heard that was only because we were the only nation on the planet who had any time for them). In fact we found it nothing like that - everyone we met was super-friendly, softly spoken, genuinely interested in us and our travels, were interesting themselves and went out of their way to be helpful and accommodating. How wrong can you be?! My eyes were well and truly opened;

•I wasn’t expecting our American ‘journey’ to be enjoyable but it really was! I especially loved the desert, small-town America, the trains (yes – I’d got with the train programme again!), all the places in my mental geography of the USA and even those I’d never heard of (Deming, Ehrenberg, Snyder, etc). It was, frankly, wonderful and I got to see more of the things on my wish list!

PS – This completes my Round The World trip stories but I anticipate one more blog to summarise the hows, whens, whys and wherefores. Watch this space ...

Additional photos below
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30th May 2016

It's over!
I'm pleased you continued to post your blogs to the end of your trip even though you've now been home for a few weeks. Another good post as always but I was surprised by your final thoughts on New York as they were so different from what I felt about NY. I found it to be less busy, quieter and cleaner than many capital cities much to my surprise. The people were friendlier than I expected too. I don't remember seeing piles of rubbish anywhere or any really bad traffic. Perhaps September's a better time to go! Looking forward to seeing lots more photos soon! Mx
31st May 2016

Isn't it strange how there can be two completely different experiences of the same place? That's travel for you! The traffic was awful while we were there with Times Square completely gridlocked on occasion - maybe there were roadworks or something when we were there? As you'll have seen from the photos the rubbish was piled high - maybe the bin men were on a go slow ... who knows. We did really like it though - we'd like to go back so that says something! Jx

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