Monday, 29 October 2012

adventures of a New York wanderer | day 3

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Well, the breakfasts we ate in New York were truly epic! For our second full day in the city and Hazel and I ventured out to a near-by cafe for a hearty, if not-so-healthy, breakfast to prepare us for another day of wandering. Now in our defence, both our breakfasts had fruit (part of our 5-a-day!), but lets be honest, any goodness gained from the yummy berries was well and truly wiped out by the badness of the syrup and whipped cream. Yes, whipped cream as part of breakfast. Indulgent in the extreme.

Hazel’s waffles with strawberries … 

My brioche French toast with mixed fruit …

The only negative comment about breakfast was the price. We paid $50 (including tip) which we both felt was a pretty pricey! But I guess higher prices should be expected when eating out so close to Time Square.

After breakfast, we each bought tickets for one of the hop-on / hop-off tour buses that run throughout the city. We went with the Gray Line’s, All Tours Ticket which was valid for 48hrs and allowed the most flexibility about our destinations as Midtown, Downtown, Uptown and Night Tours were all included in the price ($49). 

Our first trip on the bus tour took us Downtown and past some of the city’s amazing architecture …

We got off at the corner of Broadway and Vesey Street and headed over towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and from the volume of people walking across the bridge, it looked like everyone else in New York had had the same idea. It was heaving …

As it turned out, there was actually a charity event taking place and lots of ladies (and a few gents) were walking and/or running across the bridge to raise money for various Breast Cancer charities (October is breast cancer awareness all over the world).

After the bridge, we had intended to visit the World Trade Centre memorial site. However we hadn’t pre-booked and when we arrived, the next access time wasn’t for another 3.5hrs! We really didn’t want to hang around for that long, so a quick change of plan and we headed down Wall Street …

We couldn’t find the famous bull though (well, not on this day!)

We then headed down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal and embarked for a FREE 25minute ferry ride across to Staten Island and right past the Statue of Liberty …

I still can’t get over the fact that the ferry is completely free of charge and the view of Manhattan and Lady Liberty are AMAZING!

It was about 4pm by the time we returned back to Manhattan and we were both starting to feel a bit weary (well, we had been walking for around 6hrs almost non-stop!) and so we jumped back onto the tour bus and headed back to Midtown and our hotel … however, this wasn’t the end of our day. Oh no!

We headed back out again a couple of hours later and took the Night Tour of the city, which included heading over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn itself. Our tour guide on the bus was a lovely lady, who’s name I foolishly failed to get and my goodness, she was so knowledgeable. She gave so many fact about the sites we were seeing and the places we were driving through, it was amazing! And she had a great sense of humour too and really engaged with the passenger on the bus, including playing on some cross-ocean banter with Hazel and I.

Regrettably, I didn’t bring my “proper” camera along for the trip, so I only managed to snap a couple of grainy images on my mobile phone, this one just before the bus set off was probably the best and shows Time Square in all it’s luminous glory …

It was gone 10pm by the time we finally called it a day (or night) and once again, we were both out for the count all the second our heads hit our pillows.

Ticked off items on "must see / do / eat" list for this day included:
  • Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Seeing the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
  • Pepperoni pizza, by the slice
  • Seeing the building of One World Trade Centre (aka Freedom Tower)
  • Seeing the twinkling lights of the Manhattan skyline at night

Saturday, 27 October 2012

adventures of a New York wanderer | day 2

A fitful night sleep ended at around 5:30am, when both Hazel & I were woken by the sound of sirens and horns blaring. Welcome to the city that never sleeps! The weather report for the day predicted grey skies and rain showers, so we decided this would be our shopping day. We figured we’d just pop into a shop if and when the rain showers started. I foolishly hadn’t brought any kind of coat or waterproof jacket with me. What was I thinking? I guess I figured on every day being sunny. Oh such folly on my part.

As it turned out, it poured with rain pretty much all morning and into the early afternoon. I got drenched and because of the rain, I took hardly any photos! No photos of Hazel doing her best Audrey Hepburn impression at Tiffany’s. No photos of Saks Fifth Avenue. No photos of anything really. Boo! It was a great day for exploring the city, but just not a great day for capturing on film, errr I mean memory card (that really doesn’t sound as charming, does it?).

At one point, to escape the rain we dropped in a bar situated at the bottom of the Empire State Building and grabbed a couple of lager shandies. We watched people as the trudged their way along 5th Avenue, dodging umbrellas and generally looking a little damp, much like we were…


We popped into Macy’s too, but it was pretty busy and the music was so load, I really didn’t enjoy it that much. There were so many sales assistants swarming over every customer that walked by. Arrggghhhh! I don’t really enjoy shopping at the best of times, but when I do go, I prefer just to be left alone to browse at my own leisure.

I did buy one thing though. An umbrella. A funky clear plastic bubble style one, with taxi cab yellow edging. It was pretty cool and probably the most practical style for a crowded city situation. I could have the umbrella up and yet still easily see where I was going …

Just a shame I didn’t think about the size of it though. I would actually end up having to leave it in New York because it wouldn't fit it into my suitcase to bring it back home.

By the time we got back to Time Square, the rain had eased off. While there, we saw one of the big advertising boards showing the Dunk Tank game. It’s great fun! A live camera is pointed down into Time Square and you can see yourself up there on the big screen. Like a movie star, hahaha! It’s like a playing a giant real-life game of Where’s Wally / Waldo …

Here's a couple of other "random" photos I took and rather like ...


In terms of things I managed to tick off my “must see / do / eat” list on this day, they were:
  • Pancakes for breakfast (very tasty, but HUGE! There were 3 on my plate but I could only eat 1.5)
  • Looking longingly through Tiffany’s windows
  • Sitting in a booth at a diner and eating a cheeseburger for my tea

Thursday, 25 October 2012

adventures of a New York wanderer | day 1

There were four other couples on the shuttle bus with Hazel, myself & Mr Grumpy (the driver), none of which were staying at the same hotel, so on the very first afternoon of our trip, we had an unexpected tour around mid-town Manhattan! We were the last ones to be dropped off at our chosen destination, the Edison Hotel on West 47th Street, which was literally just around the corner from Time Square. The hotel d├ęcor had an art deco flair to the exterior and all public areas, but a much less expressive, nay even bland scheme in the room interiors. Not to worry though. As long as there was somewhere to rest our weary heads and sooth our aching feet, we were happy.

Having dropped off our luggage, we promptly headed out to explore the local neighbourhood. In actual fact, we wandered about 12 blocks north and found ourselves at the south west corner of Central Park, at Columbus Circle (which just happens to be the only round-about in New York City!). 

It was already after 5pm and the light was beginning to fade, never-the-less we explored a fair chunk of the southern part of the park, finding the Mall …

the Bethesda Terrace (complete with silhouetted dancers!) and fountain ... 



and even managing to snap this shot of the city skyline as darkness began to fall … 

On the way back to our hotel we both had our first experience of New York’s culinary delights; hot dogs from a street vendor. The fist of many things I could tick off my “must see / do / eat” list.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

New York is ...

… familiar. This probably sounds a bit odd given that I’ve only just returned from my first ever visit there, but it’s true. As you walk down the avenues, stroll through the park and turn each corner, you’re presented with yet another iconic image or landmark, that is New York.

I’d visited America once before (back in 2007) and I’ll be honest and say I was just a little overwhelmed by everything. That was for a quick trip to Grand Rapids [business] and then onto Chicago [pleasure]. I knew nothing about either location and really didn’t know what to expect. I was also travelling with five colleagues from work and so on most days, our itinerary was already planned for us.

My recent trip to New York was completely different; in fact, the only similarities with my previous trip to America were that I was travelling with a colleague [and friend] from work, Hazel and that our early departure time meant leaving for the airport at an ungodly hour in the morning! Of course one key advantage of an early flight and the minus 5hrs time difference between the UK and USA was that we’d arrive at JFK at around 1:30pm and in theory, that meant we should be at our chosen hotel by mid-afternoon.

Now I say “in theory” because as always, getting through passport control / immigration at any airport is always a bit of a pain but at JFK it was utterly torturous. We were shuffled through to a dark, dingy, very dated looking room that could also be described as a cellar / basement, where we joined a snaking queue of bodies, waiting to be “processed”. The ceiling seemed to be only about 8ft above floor level, the walls were dark and grubby, with only the occasional stark warning sign to break the monotony, and the temperature was so bloody hot!!! Seriously, how nobody fainted whilst we queued, I’ll never know.

Once through passport control, Hazel and I then  had to figure out where to pick-up our pre-arranged shuttle bus transfer to the hotel. Yet another queue and yet another unbearably hot waiting area.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m British and queuing is considered a national past-time over here, but queuing in America is nowhere near as civilised as queuing in Britain. For a start, what’s the fascination with being asked to “line up against the wall”? Every queue we joined, we were always asked to wait against the wall. Why?

We waited for nearly an hour before our minibus finally arrived and our driver was such a charming chap, NOT! He was so rude and grumpy. Honestly. If you work within the service industry (like I do) then smiling at your customers and being polite should be a given. Arggghhh. Manners cost nothing and yet are priceless!

Anyhoo, before this starts to sound like a bashing session, let me just say that all the irritation for the delays and lack of service immediately evaporated as soon as Hazel and I saw the Manhattan skyline for the first time. It’s breathtaking. It’s exactly as you see it in the movies. It’s iconic; that’s a word you’ll read a lot during my next couple of blog posts. New York is … iconic.