New York - Day 1 - Tuesday 19th June
For some reason we always book flights that require us to leave home super early… this time it was 5:30am when we headed off to Acton Town station to catch the Piccadilly Line tube to Heathrow Terminal 5.
Self-service bag check often presents a hiccup and this time it was my suitcase that got its wheels caught on the transporter and held everything up. Then going through security it were I that had to stand in the scanner with my arms in the air like a criminal. It’s such an invasive process that it made me teary but I stayed strong so as not to weigh my husband down with a whimpering wife. After that small ordeal we found a decent place to order a pastry and a coffee for our brekky and wait for the gate to be announced.
In general, the BA-117 flight to JFK went smoothly, but some of it was extremely bumpy and I felt like my bones were shaking. I was scared but I just closed my eyes and said to myself “I’m scared and I love that” over and over, because I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of accepting how we feel in the moment so the emotion can be experienced and then dissipate. It seemed to work and no-one was any the wiser of my silly fears. In the smooth bits I watched TV so the 7-hour flight eventually passed.
Arriving at JFK was a surreal experience for me… to be actually in America and hearing the accents and noticing already how different it felt, when I’ve only ever seen/heard this on the TV. Once we’d been photographed and fingerprinted, the border lady stamped our passports and we were on our way.
Hubby had done extensive research (thank you) before we left so he knew exactly how to get us to our hotel. We caught the Air Train from the airport to Jamaica Station, then changed to the Long Island Railway from where we caught the train to Penn Station which is on Manhattan island, then changed again onto the Subway ‘Line 1, South Ferry to 242 Street/Bronx’ and got off at 103rd street, right outside our hotel. Just a quick shout-out to husband here… because even though I’d packed lightly in a carry-on case, he still mostly took charge and grabbed both our suitcases to navigate all the stairs. I mean he IS ten times stronger than me so it’s like lifting feathers for him, but it saved my crooked spine and for that I am very grateful.
A note on the subway carriages: they are like tin cans, literally, they are all steel with hard plastic seats. One has to hold on tight if standing up because it’s a pretty rough ride. At least they have air-conditioning, so the temperature is a pleasant respite from being outside on a hot day. Also, I didn’t get a chance to count how many carriages per train, but there are many more than in Sydney and even in London, so the train seems to take forever to pass through the station. I guess it makes sense because of the population, but it was something I noticed and wanted to remember.
This hotel is NOTHING like the internet pictures! We had a very dark room, small and stuffy, with a soft, bouncy double-bed pushed against the wall. The first night we were kept awake by very noisy motors (air conditioners?) right outside the room, and every time one of us turned over the bed bounced around like a water bed, so in the morning we asked to be moved to another room. They obliged (the members of staff we dealt with were very pleasant) and the 2nd room was better, but only just. It was one of those rooms that you just wanted to get out of. The internet connection was bad too, so we couldn’t even use the time productively to look at maps and do research. Not good, but this is our budget so we grinned and bared it… in fact, we were so good at the grinning and baring that we didn’t even say anything much to each other until much later when we’d left and gone to the LA hotel, then we let rip on how bad it was.
New York City
Having left London at 8:30, after 7 hours and 40 minutes of flying, minus the time difference, we landed in New York at 11:10. Border Control and the train journey took about 3 hours, so we got to the hotel at around 2pm and still had plenty of day left.
Once we’d ‘settled in’ to the hotel, we took the 104 bus down Broadway towards downtown. The bus trip was quite funny. It was really slow and it seemed to be senior’s day. Everyone here has an opinion and wants to speak up. An older lady up the back of the bus had a go at a young family sitting down and said, in her strong jewish American accent (is that a Bronx accent?), ‘there are seniors getting on, you can’t sit there’ so people shuffled about accordingly. Then another lady got on who wanted to go somewhere particular, so everyone on the bus was offering an opinion on how she should get there, then she’d get off and as a group they’d decide she should get back on and try a different route… it went on for the whole trip and held up the bus, but it was funny and we were grateful to be sitting down and seeing New York out the window.
We eventually alighted at 42nd street and walked the short distance to Times Square. I’ve gotta say this is a real disappointment. Not that I had any expectations, but still. I really have NO idea what’s so special about the place, unless of course you are into bright lights and advertising. I don’t want to be mean about it, but I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking at. The only unique thing here was the couple of girls wearing nothing but painted boobs and g-strings, galavanting about asking people to take a photo of them and pay for the privilege. Naked busking?
After a bit of wandering and wondering we found a Spanish style bar where we could sit down and eat and freshen up. A lovely fresh salad for me, Nachos for hubby + we both ordered a pint of American Lager (the smallest size they had). I don’t think either of us finished because we were mindful of being jet-lagged and how much of the day we still wanted to experience.
Next stop was back onto the subway line 1 to South Ferry where we caught the Ferry to Staten Island. This ferry trip is free and really worth the experience.
We had been told that the ferry does a circular trip all the way round the Statue of Liberty and then back to port. What actually happens is that everyone boards (this ferry is MASSIVE so there are a lot of people crowding on) then heads straight over to Staten Island where it stops and they tell everyone to get off. Oh no! We don’t want to be stuck here! Luckily we realised that it was heading straight back again, so we had to run through the exit, run around to the entrance and re-board. Luckily we just made it back on before the doors shut, in fact they were shutting the doors as we passed through. Phew!
The ferry sails past the Statue of Liberty, not very close, but at least we could see her. The thing that struck me the most though was the feeling of being in Sydney because the harbour looks very similar from this angle, and we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine which also made us remember home. Looking back from the Ferry to the city was a similar layout to seeing North Sydney (New Jersey) on the left, Circular Quay (Manhattan) in the middle, and Balmain (Brooklyn) on the right. It was really a strange, but homely, feeling.
After sitting in the sun and wind for half-an-hour and feeling worn out, we trained it back to our hotel. We weren’t all that hungry for dinner, but found some ready-cooked chicken wings, healthy juices and big bottles of water at the local Gristedes supermarket two doors up, so we had that in our room and had an early night, unfortunately not to be a good night’s sleep though.
New York - Day 2 – Wednesday 20th June
After our first terrible night’s sleep in the hotel which I mentioned earlier, we dropped off hubby’s shirt at the drycleaners across the road and bought some cold tablets and Vitamin C (I won’t elaborate too much on our health, but husband had developed a sinus and throat infection. I was fine at this stage but it caught me at the end of our trip).
Based on hubby’s memory of his trip many moons ago, we walked north up Broadway all the way to 112th Street to ‘Tom’s Restaurant’ – the site of the external view of the café used in Seinfeld. Newman! It was a really cute diner style restaurant with great service and simple, freshly cooked food. It wasn’t touristy and no-one was in a rush so we felt really relaxed. They refill your coffee until you say ‘no more please’ and even offer hot-water refills for a cup of tea which is great if you haven’t already squeezed the life out of your tea bag! On this first day I ate a set menu of 2 eggs, potatoes, 2 pieces of whole-wheat toast, juice and tea. Hubby ate the set menu of pancakes with bacon and syrup, juice and coffee.
The weather was superb and so after brekky we were able to walk, walk and walk some more. We headed east towards the centre of the Island, stopped at the beautiful Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, which we went into but they were preparing for an event so we couldn’t see too much. So we went next door to explore the West 111th Street People’s Garden, where there is a lovely peaceful garden, some hand-made plaques of famous people, and a large Peace Fountain. Then we headed to Central Park to look for bike rental. I hadn’t conceptualised just how big Manhattan is, and the Park itself is 2.5 miles long. From about 100th Street we caught a bus about 30 blocks but then we walked again because the bus was just too slow and hot. There are traffic lights at every intersection, which is at the corner of each numbered street (103rd, 102nd, 101st, 99th, 98th etc) PLUS often a set of traffic lights for pedestrians at the halfway point. So it’s an incredibly slow stop-start ride. We eventually entered the park at about 66th street… oh what a beautiful haven in the middle of the city. We wandered freely through the park for a while and by the time we found the bike hire on 59th Street, we were knackered and way too hot so decided to come back tomorrow!
We have fully acknowledged the necessity of eating well, so we bought some freshly made ready-food at the Gristedes for lunch. By now we are in the 2nd room which is better but still dark and there is no table in the room (nor a fridge), so we ate on the bed. We then showered and changed ready for our next adventure…
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert! It is performed and filmed in the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway and 53rd Street. We had nabbed a couple of General Admission tickets, but apparently that didn’t guarantee we would get in. We knew we had to arrive early so we were there by 3pm. The organisers asked us to queue in the street around the corner (we were very patient) then at 4pm we were moved to the queue in front of the theatre (losing patience), then at 4:30pm they checked our ID and informed us we would definitely get in, yay, which we did at about 5pm (completely drained from standing in a queue for 2 hours!).
It certainly was an interesting experience. First I have to share my opinion that they don’t treat their audience with much respect at all. Once we were inside, we were expected to act over-enthusiastically, clap really loudly, and laugh with as much gusto as we could muster… which in theory is fine, but I’m telling you it’s very difficult when you’ve been standing in a queue in the street for such a long time… sorry guys, my enthusiasm left at about the 3:30 mark!
Having said that (and moving right along), we both enjoyed the experience of watching a live show being taped and seeing what happens behind the scenes.
We were ‘warmed up’ by a comedian who wasn’t very funny at all (sorry, it’s probably just a culture thing) but of course we all had to laugh uproariously, then when Stephen Colbert appeared we did as we’d been asked and clapped and cheered with all our might, only to be told that wasn’t the real entrance and he would do it again for the filming! OK, take 2.
It was interesting watching him recording his monologue (which if you’ve seen his show is probably the best bit). We oo’d and ah’d and laughed in all the right places and the producers seemed happy with the result.
There was a band that played rather enthusiastically to take the show to and from each commercial break, and three guests to be interviewed. I didn’t know any of them, and it’s probably really obvious but it became clear to me on the night that the interview spots in these talk shows are just for marketing purposes because each guest always has a new book/movie/show they want to promote. I guess their agent negotiates with the producers to get them on the show.
The final act was a music performance by a chap on guitar with a pre-recorded backing track and three violins to support him. The lights were dimmed and the smoke machine turned on to create a melancholic atmosphere. I quite liked it. At the end of his performance there was a delay while the producers checked the sound, then, ‘yes it’s a take’, so that was it.
The show finished by 7pm without much fanfare… it was sort of ‘ok that’s it, thanks for coming’, so everyone piled back out on to the street. We were a bit hungry so we decided to go next door for pizza. The restaurant looked nice from the outside, but once we were inside and sitting down we realised it was VERY expensive. Unfortunately we just couldn’t face trudging around looking for somewhere else to eat so we stayed put, which we regretted in the end. It was $24 for a basic 17” pizza plus 3.95 per topping and we had three toppings… mushrooms, olives, beef, so the pizza was $32, plus of course we had a drink each. We thought we’d arrived in time for their ‘happy hour’ but we found out when the bill came that we had missed it by about three minutes so my wine was $11 and Andrew’s beer was $7. What? Needless to say we didn’t leave a tip.
Being a superb night weather-wise, we walked all the way to the south end of Central Park, which was only about 5 blocks (10 minutes say) and wandered around a little bit enjoying the tranquillity. There were loads of people sitting around on the grass having had a picnic, or just lying on a rug staring up at the canopy of trees. We also saw loads of little sparks jumping about on the grass and realised they must be fireflies. They were really pretty and it was a lovely end to the day.
New York - Day 3 – Thursday 21st June
After a better sleep, we went back to Seinfeld Café for brekky because we like the simple food and the staff are friendly without being too attentive. We skipped the set menus today and I had two eggs with toast + tea, and hubby had a buttered bagel + coffee.
On the way back to the hotel, we happened upon Westside Market on 110th Street (www.wmarketnyc.com). They sell super healthy foods and delicious salads, so we bought ourselves some lovely lunch bites and juices to take with us on our day's exploration. We are both really pleased to have found this shop because we are super keen to eat well.
We also picked up Andrew's clean shirt, dropped off another one and stopped off at the hotel to freshen up.
We decided to catch the subway to Greenwich Village. This is the groovy part of New York where the sitcom 'Friends' was set and where you will find the brownstone apartment blocks seen in a lot of American sitcoms. We walked around exploring the area, then headed to a lovely park called ‘Washington Square Park’ to eat our lunch. It's a very hot day, so we sat on a park bench in the beautiful shade of enormous green trees with our shoes off, listening to a jazz trio turning out standards. We watched squirrels running about and climbing up and down the tree trunks. It was incredibly relaxing and a surprising oasis in the middle of the city.
We finally peeled ourselves off the bench to explore the streets of the East Village, into Noho (North of Houston Street) and Soho (South of Houston Street) and got a feel for how relaxed and unique this area is. I can't think of an area in any other city (that I've visited) that is similar.
Once we were feeling at the end of our energy, we headed back to the hotel to shower and rest, have dinner on the bed (purchased from our now favourite Westside Market… fantastic salad, mixed on the spot in a stainless steel bowl with our choice of ingredients) dress up, then head back out to Greenwich Village to the Village Vanguard jazz club to see a band called 'David Murray & Class Struggle'.
The Vanguard is a great little underground jazz club at 178, 7th Avenue, Greenwich Village that has a wonderful history of hosting superb jazz musicians since 1935. It's a poky wedge of a room but every table has a pretty good view of the little stage. The acoustics are good too. One of the prerequisites of entering the venue, even though we bought tickets, is that everyone must buy at least one drink. A waitress came round and took orders and duly returned with the drinks and a bill. Just before the end of the set, she came around again to collect money, but it was so ridiculously dark in there, and American money is so difficult to tell apart, we had to use the light from our phones so see (a) what the bill came to, and (b) what notes we were handing over. It was funny watching everyone doing the same thing and trying not to disturb the band.
We only stayed for one set because we really weren’t taken with the band. The musicians were individually great, but as an ensemble it sounded as though each soloist was playing a completely different tune in a different tempo to the rest of the band. I quite liked the drummer and bassist though.
As it was such a lovely evening again, we walked up 7th Avenue all the way to Madison Square Gardens where the crowds started to become much more touristy and the walk more of a trudge, so we found a subway which took us to South Central Park. I realised that this was our last chance to see any of the East Side, so we decided to see if we could catch a taxi north via Madison Avenue so I could at least get a taste of the area. We found a nice taxi driver who was kind enough to be our guide and he did indeed drive us up Madison all the way up to the 97th Street Transverse through the park and back over to our hotel on the West Side. Now THAT’s worth a tip!
Day 4 – Friday 22nd June
We had brekky again at Seinfeld again, then went to collect hubby’s clean shirt but “Oh No!” they’ve sent it away for cleaning and it won’t be back till 2:00pm! “But we have to leave by mid-day!” After much um-ing and ah-ing and broken Korean-English, they said they would post it to us. Hmmm… OK, so here’s our UK address! Well, we shrugged our shoulders and said goodbye to the shirt. [Post script… they did indeed post it and we received a lovely clean and pressed shirt in a parcel a few days after we arrived home. YAY.]
We were going to ride bikes in Central Park this morning but realising the sort of day we had ahead of us, we canned that idea. What were we thinking!?! We packed, checked out of hotel, and booked a shuttle bus to the airport. The hotel advised us that leaving at 12:40 would be suitable for our 15:30 flight. With that sorted, the only thing we had time for was a coffee. Typical that we gravitated to a French cafe! It was really relaxed and fun, run by a Frenchman and a Canadian, and they had World Cup fever so the Soccer was on the tele and there were colourful flags everywhere.
After that we headed off to the airport to go to Los Angeles, which has it's very own post!