Travels in America: New York

My husband Joe and I have undertaken three trips to the United States, and have loved our travels there.  In the keeping with the holiday spirit as we all take a well-earned break, I have brushed the dust off our blog written at the time (October 2014), removed excessive cussing and tidied up the grammar for Whaleoil readers.  This is part 3 of 7.

Day ten – New York

Our first real bite of the Big Apple.  We started off at Grand Central Station, quite an impressive building from the outside,  but the main hall inside is huge and pretty spectacular with it.

Grand Central Station

Spent a bit of time taking photos and watching hordes of people scurrying hither and thither.  Then it was time to figure out the subway system.  As usual, pretty simple once you figure it out.  Buy a ticket, load it with money and away you go.  Cost is $2.75 per trip.  Initially, we only wanted to get $10 worth of travel, but we only had $20 notes and the machine didn’t give change more than $8, so we ended up getting the $19 worth of travel, plus it costs you $1 for the ticket.  Apparently, you can re-fill them, though they are just thin plastic with a mag stripe which you swipe each time, so I’m not sure how long it will actually last.

With that done, we jumped on the subway and went to the Brooklyn Bridge stop, with the plan to walk across the bridge (it has a pedestrian section) and view the city from across the water.  The bridge itself is an impressive structure, and the view from it is pretty fantastic as well.  I had expected lots of tall buildings here in the city, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful they are.

Lots of very old Art Deco buildings too, not just the famous landmark ones you regularly see.  It took us about an hour to walk across the bridge with about a thousand photo stops competing with about five thousand other tourists.  We walked from there down to the Brooklyn Heights promenade which looks back over the water to the city and out to the Statue of Liberty in the distance.  Snapped a few hundred pictures there, and headed back across the bridge for a few thousand more photos, stopping for a quick bite of lunch on the way.

We were glad we started earlier in the day, as the tourist numbers had quadrupled since our first trip across.  The bridge is shared between bikes and pedestrians and there are clearly marked definitions of space, but lots of the tourists and budding photographers did not realise this.  So there was the frantic ringing of bells, whistling and shouting from the cyclists as they tried to negotiate the pedestrians stopped slap in the middle of the bike lane to get one more picture.

Brooklyn Bridge

Next stop was the 911 memorial, which was within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge we had just crossed twice.  Past the stunning Woolworth Building.  We had to wind our way through yet more construction sites, it’s a mess.  Eventually found the memorial, basically two big fountains set into the ground, in the shape of two big squares which represent the footprint of the original towers.  Water pours into the fountains from all four sides and then out of a smaller square in the middle.  Not easy to describe, refer to the photo.  Around the edge is a bronze sheet with the names of the victims cut from the bronze.  I commented that the use of water was a great idea, it is quite loud and manages to drown out the cacophony of the city, so at least the area feels a little more restful than the usual honking of horns and sirens.

911 Memorial at the site of the twin towers

After a quick sit down in a nearby park to rest our hot and tired feet, we took the subway again to South Ferry to catch the Staten Island ferry past the old Statue of Lib.  I made a dramatic entrance to Battery Park, wasn’t watching where I was going and tripped a beauty on the curb.  Went sprawling on my hands and knees, and could barely get up for laughing so hard.  The only damage was to my dignity, thankfully my camera was in my bag else that would have hit the deck too.

Queued up for the Ferry (it’s free) and herded on with the other couple of thousand tourists.  It’s about a half hour trip past old Lady Lib, not great pics unfortunately as her arm cast a big shadow across her face.  We might have to suss out what will be a better time and then actually make the trip to the Island that she’s on for a more close up look.

Had to wait for half an hour for the return ferry, and amused ourselves by watching the huge number of Jewish families that seem to be out and about here.  Lots of big families, at least 5 kids in each, all the boys with Yarmulkes and the adult men with the full-on beards and ringlets, prayer shawls, long black coats and sometimes hats as well.

The trip back on the ferry was filled with tired and howling kids, little kids shoving past to get to the railings, and officious women ramming pushchair wheels into our feet while trying to squeeze past.

Another subway trip back to our temporary home, interrupted by some crazy guy who wouldn’t let the train car door closed until someone told him whether this train stopped at Penn Station.  Joe made a foray to Toys R Us while I came home via the Pharmacy where I bought a big bowl of cut fresh fruit, which has been missing from our diet for the last week or so!

Laundry night tonight, so it was a quick dinner at a salad house called Chop’t near Times Square, very nice beef salad and home to round up a thousand quarters for the washing machine and dryer.

Day eleven – New York

We decided to go to the “Friends” 20th Anniversary café that has been set up here to celebrate the TV series that was a bit of a cult for our generation.  We made our way there by subway and emerged from underground to find a queue winding its way around the block.  We were told it would be about a half hour wait, so we decided to put our patient pants on and join the queue.  It’s only a temporary site, and how often do we come to NY?  Almost never.  We were given a ticket that allowed us entry between 11 am and 12 pm, and by this time it was 10:30.  So we waited.  Were treated to a bit of street theatre as some guy driving a mini got into a bout of road rage with a yellow cab driver.  Lots of shouting and yelling, photographing licence plates, writing down names and addresses, phoning lawyers to type up the lawsuit.

So that passed the time quite nicely and they were true to their word, it was only about a half hour in the queue and we were allowed in.  Not exactly what we expected, I was anticipating a mock-up of the coffee shop that was used as the set.  They had a display of some of the clothes worn, apparently.  But they were so nondescript you wouldn’t have been able to recognise any of it.  IMHO it would have been better to have particular garments that were part of the storyline, or were distinctive enough to be able to place them in a particular episode.  Maybe that wasn’t possible, I imagine the clothes and props would have been scattered far and wide by now.  But they had the famous couch from the coffee shop there, that you could queue up for (again) and have your photo taken on.  Had to be done since as we’d made the effort to wait.

The couch made famous in Friends

They were giving away free coffee and you could buy some souvenirs, but that was mostly about it.  When we left, the queue had snaked around the entire block!

We spent the next half hour or so with necks craned skywards looking at all the neat buildings in the area (Soho).  Lots beautifully decorative buildings, most of which had fire escapes, though the idea of actually using them is pretty terrifying.

Not sure I’d be brave enough to use the fire escape

We toyed with the idea of visiting the Statue of Liberty today but it was threatening to rain, so we decided to resort to our rainy day plan, which is mooching in the shops.  So we went our separate ways, there’s only so much kit and book shopping I can handle, and only so much drooling over fabric that Joe can cope with.  Besides, purchases attract less guilt if the other person isn’t there to witness the plastic melting.

Deb’s day

First on my list was mood fabrics.  If you have ever watched the reality TV series Project Runway, this is where they go to buy the fabric to make up their designs.  Wow ……. three floors of fabrics, in every shade, & type you could think of, and more besides.  Laces, braids and trims of every type imaginable.  Buttons in every size and colour, I could have just gone crazy.  I think if I was a designer, I’d come here just to hang out and be inspired.  And the prices are pretty reasonable, I remember being a bit sceptical in the show where they only had $100 to spend (on average) to make a garment that looked really expensive.  Having seen what’s in store, that seems less impossible than I originally thought.  I was trying to keep in mind that whatever we buy, we must lift into the luggage racks.  So I did two slow circuits of each floor earmarking some quite different pieces that I couldn’t possibly live without, and eventually settled on some velvets (really stunning designs), some trim for a piece of fabric I already have, and a couple of cheap mesh knits that had stunning patterns on them.  Light light light! I took a few snaps in the store on my phone as I had left my camera behind, but you can’t really capture it all.

And of course I was now in the fashion district, so I wandered past a few more shops, lots selling amazing evening dresses, wholesale rather than retail.  Then there was a zip shop, selling every colour, length, type and style you could imagine, plus belt buckles, press-studs, trims ……. and unfortunately lots of signs around the store saying “no photography” but I sneaked one from the street.  Then I headed back to the motel to drop my swag of Mood loot, it was getting quite heavy by this point, which doesn’t bode well for the luggage racks.

Joe’s day

After we had lunch and went our separate ways, I trotted off to the USS Intrepid Museum, located at Pier 86 on the waterfront.  The Intrepid is a WW2 Aircraft carrier that was commissioned in 1943 and fought in some of the major Pacific campaigns. After WW2, the carrier was put in reserve then rebuilt to a modern configuration which is how it’s preserved today. It’s now a designated historic landmark.

Getting to the Intrepid was pretty easy and only 20 minutes walk from our Hotel. The ship is very large and on entering you go into the hangar deck. It’s noteworthy that bag and metal screening is also done here, and I set it off with the metal in my boots. However, for the benefit of all concerned, I didn’t have to take my boots off and do it again!

There’s several aircraft on the flight deck, and they have also added an annexe on the stern that houses a space shuttle, the Enterprise, but I elected not to go to that as it was a dearer ticket and I’d been able to get up close to Discovery at Udvar-Hazy.

It was very hot & muggy and the effects were felt as I was wandering the flight deck. They have a good mix of aircraft, mostly carrier or naval related but with one or two exceptions, like the MiG-21 and the SR-71 Blackbird (always an impressive beast up close). I went into the hangar deck for some relief from the conditions and a wander around there. There’s 4 aircraft in the hangar deck as well as several exhibits and models of the carrier. One of the models is built from 250,000 pieces of Lego to a whopping 1/40 scale.

There’s also a Concorde parked on the pier next to the ship, and that too was an impressive aircraft up close.

After that, I wanted to try & get to a military bookshop I’d read about and marked on the map, so it was back into the metro to take the green line east a few stops.  Emerging from the subway, it took me a few minutes to get myself oriented, and then about ½ an hour to realise I was still disoriented! However, I did happen upon a Barnes & Noble store, which is a mix of Whitcoulls and JB hi-fi, in that they sell books, toys and DVD’s / blu-rays.  They had a great range of things, even a few Airfix kits, but I ended up just getting a couple of DVDs and then heading off to try and find this bookstore. I eventually managed to find it, tucked away in a small plaza between Park & Madison Avenues, but after all that effort it wasn’t at all what I had hoped for. Very small and a very specific selection ( in fact about 20% of all the books were devoted to books by, or about, Winston Churchill) , and as I didn’t fancy lugging seven volumes of a set around with me, I mooched out again and decided to walk back to the Apartment.

I headed back down 6th Ave (also called Avenue of the America’s) and stopped in at the HBO Shop which sells all sorts of stuff (t-shirts, mugs, figures etc) that relate to HBO shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and the like.

I managed to get back to the room just before the weather broke and it hosed down, and fortunately, it held off as we went out for dinner. Tonight it was going to a burger place where you can build your own burger, so hurrah! Nothing for me to pick out ( the website is www.thecounterburger.com)   – and the food was really nice to boot. We made it back just as the heaven’s opened again and we got drenched in the last few feet to our Hotel.

Day twelve –  New York

Raining and grey today, that fine but ever-so-wetting rain, so rainy day plan was invoked again.  I decided to check out Macy’s, which was a bit of a yawn fest.  Very much like Farmers/Myers, I would say, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with Farmers/Myers, it wasn’t what I came to New York for.  So I caught the subway over the Saks Fifth Avenue, to check out what they had in store.  Oh my……..  this was more what I came to New York for in terms of fashion, but oh my, the prices !!!  The old adage is true if you have to ask what the price is, you can’t afford it.

Nice Burberry handbag, $2700.  Gorgeous Valentino handbag with butterflies, $3k.  Funky skirt (that I got brave and tried on with no intention of buying) that had red lips sewn all over it, $595.  Thankfully even the largest size didn’t fit, so I could with a clear conscience give that as the reason for not buying it.  And the most expensive thing that I saw the price of, a faux fur bomber-style jacket which was a cool $23,500.  And yes, I checked the label three times to be sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  I seriously want to know who has the money to actually be able to afford to buy that kind of stuff ???  And how on earth can you justify that cost ???

However they did have a stunning display of Carolina Herrera gowns, the sort you see on Stuffs “Best and Worst dressed” blog.  And my, they were stunning.   Really intricate pieces that had clearly had hours and hours of work put into them.  And they did look totally amazing, so it was worth it to be able to see some of her gowns at close range.  I then made my way up the various floors, with prices getting lower the higher you went.  By the time I reached the 7th floor, it was the shoe department, and I still couldn’t find anything I could afford.  There was an outrageous pair of Brian Atwood fringed knee-high boots, a cool $3000 and a pair of fabulous Sophia Webster’s that were pretty stunning too.  Lovely to look at, way too expensive to buy, but it was fun to see all this stuff close up, as I cruised the store in my manky worn-for-five-days travel pants, my solid-but-ever-so-practical walking shoes and two-days-old-and-getting-a-bit-wiffy t-shirt.

I’d had enough by midday, you clearly need to be VERY wealthy and VERY thin to look fabulous in this city, and I don’t fit either category!

In the afternoon I swung by Mood again to swap my “thank you Mood” s-shirt for a smaller size and do another lap to see if there was anything else I just had to have.  I managed to dissuade myself by thinking about lifting my bag into the luggage racks and came home empty handed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening trying to plan a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Rockefeller Centre tomorrow as the weather is set to be fine.

Joe’s day

My shopping day started out with a list of hobby shops to visit ( no surprise there ). The first one was near Macy’s so after bidding farewell to Deb outside Macy’s I started hunting for it. Well oh lordy was it hard to find! I went past the address three times at least, as I was expecting a street-level shop and just could not find it – and I even went a few streets up & down  looking for is at sometimes the address can be a bit misleading (eg if the storefront is on one street but entrance is on another). So on the verge of giving up, and fearing that the shop had been turned into a Subway ( the only shop I could see at that address !), I turned on data roaming and chewed up some precious phone balance to see if the shop was still operating and where the heck it was! Well, sure enough, I had the address right, but it was on the 13th floor of the building, and there was no signage on the street. Sigh, well at least I had found it. This was Gotham Trains, www.gothammodeltrains.com, and what a gem of a place. Dedicated to trains of course, they had some superb models available, including a lot of engines and rolling stock all in brass!

The next on the list was another hobby shop close by, but they mainly specialised in out of the box r/c with only a few kits, so I moved right along to the last on my list, the Red Caboose.

Well, what an absolute gem of a shop. The Red Caboose ( www.theredcaboose.com ) is located on 23 west 45th street ( about 10 easily walked blocks from Gotham Trains, on 224 west 35th st, level 13!) and was a small, basement shop absolutely CRAMMED full of goodies. And when I say crammed I mean, CRAMMED!!!  There were model boxes and blister packs and all kinds of books and accessories stacked, stapled and stashed against almost every single available space. It was hard to move in there and oh what joy! There was even a shop cat, a big ol’ ginger tom, that curled up on the books or counter (and let me pet him a few times).

The owner was a delight and there was much “ excuse me, sorry” as we had to manoeuvre around each other as he replenished stock and I tried (and failed) to stop gawping at what was on the shelves. I could only agree with the reaction of a young African-American guy as he came into the shop, and couldn’t stop exclaiming “oh my god…oh my god..I gotta bring my son here …oh my god”. I had a good chat with him, and we both agreed this was a stellar place. I visited the shop twice this day and can only say again that it’s an absolute gem and is worth a visit if only to experience what it’s like on the inside. On my second visit, the owner discounted my purchase and he was a delight to listen to as he talked with his other customers.  I can only describe his accent as pure ‘Noo Yawk” and I’m sure if he drinks coffee it’s pronounced “cawfee”.

Day thirteen – New York

The day of incessant queuing.

Big day today, we plan to conquer two major tourist attractions, the Statue of Liberty and The Rockefeller centre.

The day dawned bright and sunny and I was woken by the Aces High march from the Battle of Britain blaring from Joe’s phone.  We had to set the alarm for 6.30 to get ourselves organised in time.  It’s not the best way to be woken from a deep sleep!

We showered and dressed, and caught the subway to South Ferry, stopping to buy breakfast on the way.  The purpose of booking online the night before was to spend as little time as possible queuing for the trip to Liberty Island.  There is only one ferry service that is allowed to dock at the Island, so demand is high.

We’d booked for a 9 am departure, however that is a bit of a fib and that’s actually the check-in time, the ferry doesn’t depart until 9.30am.  So we eventually got to the “will call” booth to collect our tickets, and joined the queue.  Typically our idiot magnet was working efficiently and we got stuck behind some twerp who didn’t have his booking reference with him, and the credit card he’d booked with had been compromised and replaced.  After much faffing, the poor suffering attendant found his booking and issued his tickets.

We collected ours with no fuss at all because we are organised (pats self on back) and headed out to join the queue for the ferry itself.  It’s about 8.30am by this time.  We stood in the queue and stood and stood, and eventually, they herded everyone through security.  Yes, you have to go through airport-like security to visit the Statue of Liberty.  Except that you can take some knives, Swiss-army knives and the like.  You have to take off belts, boots (if they have metal in the sole like Joe’s), watches & empty your pockets of coins/phones to go through the scanner.  And yes, there was someone in front of us who patted the wallet in his pocket five times before walking thru the metal detector and setting it off, only to have to come back through and he held up the entire queue while he dug his wallet out and put that through the x-ray machine separately ……. as if he’s never had to do this in his life before.

Then we joined another queue to actually board the boat.  A ferry that can transport about a thousand people (rough guess) but only has one entry and exit point that is two people wide.  Much delay and subtle shifting of position to get a slight advantage over the person next to you, or in my case, to block the person trying to edge past you when they think you won’t notice.  We claimed a two people wide portion of the railing so we could take photos as we sailed past the statue, but of course the French next to us encroached to the point where we ended up with half the space from what we started with.  It’s one of those really obvious things you notice when you travel, we Kiwi’s expect to have personal space, and those from much more crowded countries (i.e. the rest of the world) knows this and uses it to their advantage.  Their theory seems to be “pick a Kiwi to latch on to, that’ll double our space cos they can’t stand being touched or jostled”.

My decision to graciously move aside so a couple of old dears could get to the rail and take photos was rewarded when they then took aeons to pull out the instruction manual, work out how to power it on, select the mode …. you get the idea.  And all the while that Statue is passing by tantalisingly close, begging to be photographed by someone whose hands are actually steady enough to hold a camera still for 1/60th of a second.

We get to Liberty Island and disembark, a thousand people, two by two through the one small exit from the vessel, and walk to the main entrance for the statue, where we join another queue to prepare for yet another security screening.  This time you are not allowed to take food or water, nor are you allowed backpacks of any kind, though I am allowed my over should camera back that is pretty much as big as a backpack.  I think I could live with all of this hoopla if there was some kind of logic that went with it.  I mean honestly, am I going to whip someone to death with a cucumber?  Poke out their eyes with a banana?  Or maybe I could just hold a knife to their throat, because yes, knives were allowed here too.  Farcical.

It’s fair to say that by this point I was feeling very dark about our decision to do this trip, as it was something we’d um’d and ah’d on.  But we were here now, and FINALLY it was all systems go to climb the stairs to the pedestal (note: tickets to climb all the way to the crown are very limited and book out months in advance).  So we climbed and climbed, and climbed some more, passing people slightly less fit than me (yay, there are some!) and eventually made it out to the base of the statue.  And Wow, was it worth it?  Yep.  Amazing.  She looks quite small from a distance, but up close she sure is impressive.  Totally worth it and my irritation was soon forgotten.

Lady Liberty

We spent much longer than expected, snapping pix and enjoying the view of Manhattan from the Island.  And curses, lots of my photos were over-exposed, it was such a bright clear day and the light reflecting off the copper of Lady Liberty was pretty fierce.

I’m still very much learning how to take photos, and it was a stupid mistake that I’ve almost stopped kicking myself for.  We spent over an hour there before catching a return ferry back to Manhattan.

We caught the subway back to our motel, had a quick toilet stop and then headed out again, this time for the Rockefeller Centre.  Again tickets purchased online the night before with the hope of skipping the queues, and this time it actually worked.  Sort of.  We were allowed straight in to “will call” to collect our tix, and were told when we came back at 2 pm for our slot, we could just waltz in the front door.  We amused ourselves laughing at all the ice skaters falling over on the skating rink at the Rockefeller Plaza, and taking pictures of the Art Deco motifs on the actual building.

Two o’clock soon rolled around and true bliss, we did indeed waltz right in the revolving door …. to another security screening.  Sigh.  Then joined the queue for the trip up in the elevator, and had to wait about 15 minutes until we were herded into the lift.  Up 67 floors in 43 seconds, ears popping multiple times on the trip.  And you get out and oh my, what a view.  But wait, there’s more.  You can take the escalators up two more floors and it is truly stunning.  You can’t possibly capture it in a photo, it really is breathtaking.

A small section of New York from the Top of the Rock

Hands down, the best view over any city I have ever had.  We spent ages up here, snapping photos (thousands) and laughing at people taking selfies or using I-pads (thousands!).  Finally dragged ourselves away feeling totally blown away by the experience.  It was completely awesome and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience this.  To be healthy and able-bodied, and to have the opportunity to do these things is something I really am grateful for.

Day 14 – New York

Central Park.
We caught the subway to the south-western corner of the park.  It’s about 16 blocks from where we are and we could have walked it in half an hour but decided to save our feet to actually walk around the park instead.  So we wandered, and wandered and wandered, snapping the occasional photo as we went.  Stunning fall colours in the trees, lovely buildings, nice reservoir, lakes, woodlands, it really does have it all.  We stopped for a brief loo break and commented on how quiet & peaceful it was, even though such a massive city is heaving nearby.  It took us about 4 hours to wander at a leisurely pace up the western side, and back down the eastern side, stopping for photos and just meandering our way along.  Quite lovely.

Central Park

But our feet were getting sore by the time we got back to the southwestern corner and I was ready for a brief sit down and a hot dawg from one of the sidewalk vendors ( and some entertainment by a Jazz trio).   By now it was about 1.30pm and time for some last minute shopping at The Red Caboose (they are not open Sunday) and a trip to Designer Shoe Warehouse for me, ever mindful of the luggage racks.  Sigh.

Day fifteen – New York

Last day in New York.
We visited the Empire State building briefly, not to go up it but to ooh and aah at the art deco building and decorations, and very lovely it was too.  Then we decided to spend the rest of the day walking the High Line.  This is an old railroad track that was unused for many years and eventually turned into a “community” space.  You can walk the old train line, which is elevated above the city, and they have paved some of it, let weeds grow in other parts and planted natives in other parts.  It is all very pretty and offers unusual views of the city that you wouldn’t otherwise get.  It is obviously becoming very popular as it was quite busy and crowded, especially towards the southernmost end.  It took a somewhere between 2-3 hours to wander along, lots of stops for photos and a very leisurely pace.  I would really recommend this if you are in New York with time to spare, it was a great thing to do and we were glad we heard about it.

The High Line

After that, we caught the train back to our motel to begin the pack/reshuffle of stuff in preparation for an early start in the morning.  Had to break out the spare bag, sigh.  We haven’t bought very much, honestly!!  Kits and books are very bulky you know, even in very small quantities!

Tune in same time tomorrow for Niagara Falls.

 


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