Days: 416-430 (15 August 2015 – 29 August 2015)
Total distance travelled: 109,958.9 kilometres (68,297.43 miles)
Did you know New York was on the ‘Bucket List‘?
On the afternoon of August 15th 2015, one day shy of my thirty sixth birthday, we ticked it off (although Sarah had already visited as solo traveller back in 2001, six weeks after the 9/11 tragedy).
We’d arrived with a couple of days to spare, as we were now awaiting the arrival of Sarah’s mum (Julie) who’d be joining us here in the largest city in the United States, and then travelling with us for somewhere around eight weeks.
With her arrival a couple of days away, we weren’t too eager to hit the bigger sights, only to have to visit them again when she arrived, so what could we do?
Well as luck would have it, my old boss (yes, once upon a time we were both gainfully employed) happened to be passing through New York on business, so a catch-up drink seemed a fitting order of the day.
So, with a loose plan in our heads, we sent him a message and jumped on the subway, headed towards 42nd Street.
After extricating ourselves from the underground world of the New York Subway system, we found ourselves at street level, but still there was no word from Dan (my former boss).
Never mind, we knew where his hotel was (not far from Grand Central Terminal) and were keen to just wander, so it was towards the station we went.
A half an hour later or so, after we’d admired the tall, constellation filled ceilings of the station (seriously, they have lights affixed in the patterns of the norther hemispheres stars) and congratulated a couple of bride/groom combinations on their big day (apparently it’s ‘the’ place for wedding snaps), we stilled hadn’t heard from him which was a little odd…
A little concerned, we thought we’d check in on him at the hotel, where they put a call through for us to his room.
Still no answer!
A little perplexed, we abandoned our plans, opting to make our way back to our pad in Upper Manhattan, via Times Square.
Here, it was bedlam.
But after dodging posses of characters clad in Elmo, Spiderman and Superman costumes (although my favourites were probably those in no costume, the topless ladies) who shark tourists for photo money, we got our way into the square proper, getting face to face with possibly the most famous image ever captured at the site.
Later, back at our pad, we finally received an answer to the mystery of ‘Where was Dan?’
It turns out his flight had been delayed the previous day, resulting in them arriving at around 11pm, and no sleep until 5am. After a day of work in the city, he’d simply crashed (as in fallen asleep in his room), and had slept solidly until the time when we finally received his message.
With this fresh information, we retired having scheduled a coffee catch-up for the following morning.
Fast forward to our first New York morning (which also happened to be my birthday), and we were again waiting in a hotel lobby for Dan… although this time he did actually show up, albeit fifteen minutes late!
We grabbed a few coffees, had a good but brief catch-up (after all, he did have to work), then let him get on his way.
Just another one of those moments that make the world truly feel a small place indeed (the fact that we can be here on the other side of the world, sharing a drink with a friendly face from home).
With the rest of the day to kill, we grabbed a train down to Battery Park so we could grab a look at the waterfront and enjoy a free historical walking tour we’d found some info on.
After checking out Castle Clinton and gazing across the water towards the Statue of Liberty, we got walking.
There was a revolutionary angle to our walk, so we took in sights such as Fraunces Tavern (a hotbed of revolutionary activity despite New York being occupied by the British), the Trinity Church in whose grounds lie the remains of Alexander Hamilton and its other Manhattan chapel, St Paul’s a few blocks away which is in fact the only remaining colonial era church left in the whole of the city.
We concluded our self guided tour at Wall Street, obviously a famous name in the financial world, but named as such as it runs along the course of the original defensive wall of the city (there’s a free history lesson for you).
Our tour concluded, we decided to while away a bit more time at the National Museum of the American Indian, and if that name alone has conjured exotic images, then so it should, as this museum covers all American Indians, from the northern reaches of Canada, down to the bottom of Chile and Argentina!
It’s entirely possible that after all of our time in Central and Southern America where we’d seen much of the material already, we didn’t fully appreciate or connect with this experience as much as we otherwise could have (let’s call it fatigue).
It was perhaps another sort of fatigue, that then found us back at our apartment with a handful of beers and snacks, and that ultimately became my thirty sixth birthday dinner…
The following day, still trying to occupy ourselves with things that we wouldn’t likely repeat, saw us cruise out to the edges of the Bronx.
Our destination, Woodlawn Cemetery.
We’d arrived with the understanding that baseball legend Lou Gehrig was buried there.
It turns out he wasn’t… although jazz legend Miles Davis was… although we couldn’t find his gravesite!
With the sun beating down, and our pores dripping sweat, we weren’t yet done.
Our next stop wasn’t all that distant, although on arrival (at Fordham University) we were surprised to see large iron gates and security staff.
We’d read that the campus housed a very impressive church (in fact one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the district if you believe the website), and after producing some I.D. and signing our names, we were allowed in.
The campus itself had a nice feel, some grand old buildings and the like, but unfortunately we were not able to get inside the church.
It did at least look nice from without.
The afternoon was wasted exploring a little more of downtown Manhattan, however back on the west coast (over in LAX) trouble was brewing.
It turns out that Sarah’s mums flight had arrived in too late for her to make her connection, so her 5pm arrival suddenly became 10pm!
At that hour, we were a little late to share a meal.
Not too late however to share a couple of beers!
By morning, Julie was feeling more refreshed than expected, and as such we decided to start our ten days of New York City exploration (with our New York City Passes) right away.
We ticked a few items off our list (which you can read about in the next post), which certainly helped us work up an appetite, for which we felt we needed two things.
Burgers and beer (after all, the day was hot and we were lunching late)!
Although we’d already visited, obviously Times Square was a location that warranted another visit, especially now we had company experiencing the place for the first time.
It didn’t have the same buzz as it had for us on that first night, but there was certainly still plenty going on… and plenty more on display!
A pattern was established over the following days where we’d breakfast on porridge, and generally lunch on self prepared bagels with cream cheese… occasionally sprucing them up a little with some tomato and cucumber.
So when we weren’t exploring with our New York Pass, what did we see?
Quite a bit actually!
As we wandered through Central Park one morning (it was around 10am) we were surprised to find a long queue of people snaking through the park.
This thing was immense (like at least a kilometre in length).
Eventually, curiosity got the better of us and we had to enquire as to what on earth was going on!?
Turns out, this was the line for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park!
It also turns out that this queue was nothing.
“You should have seen it back in 2010 when Pacino was one of the actors!”
Queues in the park weren’t the only surprises New York had to offer, and indeed one surprise was of our very own making.
With plenty of time between our decision to come to the city, and our actual arrival, we were able to do a little planning.
We asked Julie if she could leave her schedule free for our third night in town (an easy request, as everything she was doing was with us regardless), and after dining on some cheap slices of pizza (yes, we were pulling out all the stops to impress her here) made our way, with the rest of the crowd, to Madison Square Garden.
You see, in town tonight was the Entertainer, the Piano Man (okay, well in truth he’s in town roughly once a month minimum), Billy Joel!
Sure, our seats came with a bit of elevation to them, but we could see well enough, and when you’re there for the music, who in truth really gives a shit beyond that!
It was a great show, and but for a small subway debacle (which saw one of us scan their subway ticket onto the wrong platform, only to then crawl back out under the barrier… no names mentioned, but it meant we had to wait twenty minutes until the card could then be swiped again), proved a good night indeed.
Our days fairly flew by, and often things we saw, we saw at random (such as our encounter with Hook & Ladder No. 8 Firehouse, the site used in Ghostbusters).
Others however, they were obviously part of our not so masterful plan… but the girls, well they sold me on cupcakes.
Bleecker Street was the place (where they had said cupcakes), however it turns out that there was an ulterior motive.
Sex and the City, that now defunct US television series was it, as The Magnolia Bakery (where I must add, the cupcakes weren’t anything special) shot to international fame when featured on said show.
Just around the corner was also the facade that apparently served as the facade for Carries house.
It meant little to me, but something at least to the ladies…
One destination not included on our New York Pass (fair enough too, as this place has no entrance fee), but one we most certainly wanted to explore, was the New York Public Library.
We weren’t headed there for research, or even just for some peace and quiet (not that it wasn’t peaceful), but simply to experience this beautiful building… not to mention the fact that we are pretty fond of libraries.
There, I’m saying it, libraries are cool!
Whilst we didn’t get access to any of the buildings tomes, we did have the pleasure of viewing several of its lovely reading rooms, marbled foyers and wood paneled and painted ceilings.
There was however still disappointment to be had, as down in the deep bowels of the complex (otherwise known as the children’s section) we had our hopes pinned a bear.
Not just any bear, and nor just a bear alone.
This rather famous bear (whose spiritual home we’d already encountered stumbled upon in Canada) goes by the name of Pooh, Winnie-the-Pooh!
In fact his whole posse should have been there.
Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger… only they weren’t!
Turns out they’ve been removed from display so that a little bit of TLC can be applied.
Great for their long term future, but annoying for us.
We instead had to settle for P.L Travers umbrella (the author of Mary Poppins)…
A particularly memorable sunset (it was possibly the very same day we patronised the library) was enjoyed from the elevated perch that is the Highline, an initiative that I’d followed online from its concept stage to inception, and was thrilled to finally be able to visit (although this sunset visit wasn’t our first during our New York experience).
An old, disused elevated freight rail line has been retained, its spaces instead converted into a variety of gardens, pathways and general use spaces that is now known as the Highline.
It’s just another great example of a positive urban renewal project working for both the residents and tourists alike.
The other beautiful thing about New York is that it provided opportunity.
Opportunity to both indulge in some American stereotypes, as well as pursue some foods that we’d been missing for some time.
I was eager to experience an old school diner.
You know, the one with booths along the wall, linoleum floors and stools all aside the counter.
We did a little research on Google, and one morning, we gave ourselves a break from our regular (and all too monotonous) breakfast porridge, and seated ourselves down in Pearl Diner, a short walk from our morning destination, the Brooklyn Bridge.
Sure it was basic, but did I enjoy it? Hell yeah!
As if a fry up wasn’t sufficient, we actively tracked down other artery clogging morsels to satiate cravings for foods from back home.
That’s how we found ourselves tucking into meat pies (from the Chelsea Market and devoured atop the Highline) for one lunch, and devouring Peking Duck for dinner on another in Chinatown!
As mentioned earlier, we’d plans to traipse across the East River courtesy of that engineering wonder that is the Brooklyn Bridge, and indeed we did, on a beautifully sunny August day.
Did you know that the incredibly trying conditions under the river during the bridge construction, actually saw many workers suffer from ‘the bends’ (yes, the same compression sickness that is a danger for SCUBA divers)?!
What else could one do… or at least what else could we do whilst in visiting the ‘Big Apple’?
Why go out and see a play of course!
In fact we didn’t just hit up one bit of New York theatre, but we splurged and saw two.
The fame and popularity of The Book of Mormon meant there was no chance for last minute, cheap tickets, so fork out a shit load of cash we did.
For our second indulgence however, we got a good deal, a deal made even better when the small attendance for what was a matinee performance, saw us moved down to far better seats at no extra cost!
We certainly enjoyed them.
Both laced with humour, yet both so very different.
Amusingly enough, neither of them was actually performing on Broadway proper either… okay, so it’s not all that interesting, but when someone puts New York and theatre together, I immediately think of a Broadway show.
Finally, after two weeks in town, we grabbed ourselves a slice of New York Cheesecake (which tasted just like any other plain, baked cheesecake) and boarded a bus to Boston, New England.
* Our ride from Philadelphia to New York cost us $20.00 US each (more expensive as we purchased them on the bus) with Megabus.
* Our tickets to ‘The Book of Mormon’ were pricey, coming in at $110.00 US each!
* We got a much better deal with our tickets to ‘A Gentleman’s Guide’, forking out a mere $35.00 apiece for our matinee session.