New York City (NYC) - June 2002
This was my first trip to NYC and the first trip to America for my Mum. We'd chosen to go to there partly as a show of support after September 11th - feelings were still pretty raw at that point, but for my Mum it was the chance to fuifil a life-time dream. For me it was a chance to see all the places I'd dreamed about after all the Woody Allen films I've filled my head with since I was 15.
We did a 5 night/6 day stay in the middle of June, flying Virgin Atlantic (the 14.40 flight that gives you some daylight at the other end) and we stayed at the Millenium Broadway. I'm now a veteran of several NY trips and for me, the hotel was nice but nothing special; the room was very nice but the hotel amenities were basic beyond an overpriced restaurant and bar. The position, however, just a 1/2 block from Times Square was brilliant for 1st timers. We spent very little time in the hotel anyway.
I think the very best spot to stay is somewhere bewteen 42-46th Streets and between 5th and Broadway. Any further north and Macy's is a real schlep, and further south and you're too far from Central Park and the best of the 5th Avenue shops. There are a number of great hotels around here. You've got 5th Avenue shopping, all the Broadway stuff and you're not too far from Central Park. I've since stayed in the Warwick and the Algonquin and I think if I had to choose, I'd go back to the Warwick again. Just the right balance of atmosphere and comfort - also has the biggest bed I've ever seen in my life (but that's another holiday story!)
The first thing that hits you in the cab from JFK to Manhattan is how the island squeezes so much into such a small package. One of my favourite things has become that first glimpse of the city as you go over the Triboro' Bridge - you can see everything in a vista opening up in front of you, North on the right, south to the left, including the Empire State, the Crystler and the Financial District. It must be weird for people who have been coming here for 30 years to have seen the twin towers go up, dominate the skyline for 25 years and then just disappear again.
We spent the first evening wandering round with our months open gobsmacked at how big everything is. It really is very big. The roads are wide, the portions huge and the skyscapers, well, they're really, *really* big. The biggest building we have is Canary Wharf at about 52 storeys. It'd get dwarfed by loads ofbuildings in Manhattan. The Empire State is the tallest building now that the WTC towers are no more. The observation tower is on the 85th floor and we went up there on the 1st full day - a Sunday morning. The sky was blue, the temperature pleasant, and we took delight in ringing our family members from the public phone at the top! (This is before I got triband - not so exotic now...) The views are amazing too.
On the Monday we went for lunch at Oyster Bar, underneath the concourse at Grand Central Station. The reason to go really is the oysters - there a selection of about 20 different kinds, not to mention all the fresh fish and other seafoods.
We spent the next few days sightseeing - at the Met Museum and the Guggenheim; Macy's and Bloomingdales; Wall Street and the Staten Island ferry, which is free, and takes you right past the Statue of Liberty. We also took a 3 hour cruise around Manhattan from pier 82(?) next to the US Navy museum on a ship. That was excellent, although I managed to get sunburn in 17 degrees thanks to the reflected sunlight off the water (you have been warned- unless you're wrapped up, take suncreen!) One evening we even walked from our hotel down to Chinatown. It took about 2 hours, and dispelled the myth that Manhattan is small. It's not that small! We ate at Joe Shanghai on Pell Street, one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in the planet. Another time I queued there we saw the actor, Stephen Dorff.
We were very lucky to have on hand experts in what to do in New York in the form of my best mates' dad and stepmum. Robert and Fereshdeh were brilliant (as they have been on every trip I've made) and took us for dinner and drinks. On ongoing thanks to them :)
On the Thursday we spent the day in the Village - first the west side, with its tens of restaurants, cafes and tiny art galleries, through Christopher Park and across to the East Village, a bit less organised, maybe a little more culturally eclectic. We walked across to Alphabet City, at which point it started to rain. The weather had been getting warmer and more humid through the course of the week and this was the apparent release of all the humidity. Then it *really* started to rain and soon Mum and I were experiencing monsoon conditions in t-shirts and jeans, no raincoats and no umbrellas. We found an open cafe and went in to try and dry off. We'd walked into 5C (on the corner of Alphabet City's 5th Street and Avenue C.) They have a slightly different street layout within that zone to the usual road nomenclature, but like the rest of NYC, the Avenues go N-S and Streets E-W. What we didn't count on was a hidden gem of a jazz venue where we stayed for about an hour, sipping cappuccinos and chatting to the locals. You can find out more about 5C here. I thoroughly recommend it, although watch the opening times, I've tried to go back since but been there at the wrong time of day when the place has been firmly shut.
On the final day we went to the Carnegie Deli, arguably the most famous deli in NYC (certinly the biggest tourist trap!) My tip is to get there early for lunch, just before 12 is about right, otherwise you'll queue for ages, although it is worth it, with a great atmosphere and real "Nu Yeeork" waitresses. One warning is about the portion sizes - they are just about the biggest set portions I've seen ANYWHERE on the planet (and that includes Las Vegas) I now come to the "pastrami incident" - wherein my mother decided that what we couldn't eat we should take home... to England. So an uneaten pastrami sandwich approximately 8 inches high was carefully wrapped, put in to Mum's hold luggage "where it would stay cold" took possibly a recond-breaking 18 hour door-to-door transatlantic trip for a fully made pastrami sandwhich, where upon it was presented to my grandma at the other end as a souvenir-cum-viable eating proposition. Fortunately my grandma had other ideas!
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