Lifestyle, Travel

These vagabond shoes….

Rockefeller Centre

So, after many stops and false starts – we got to New York. Covid initially stymied our trip and then the very happy incident of a spanking new glorious grandchild. Over the past two years, I have been avidly asking all and sundry for suggestions and I kept a list on my phone of must sees both well known and not so well known, got a Guide Book and kept updating our hotel so many times I was on first name terms with staff there and in hotel! We had originally booked to see the all singing and dancing star that is Hugh Jackman in The Music Man at The Winter Garden. This booking also went through many stops and false starts; at least Hugh and I were having the same travails. However, the tickets were originally nearly $600, and by the time we got to really say “that this is it, we’re off”, the tickets had increased their price to $1000 extra. You know much and all as I would have loved to have seen the show, this price was just way beyond what we wanted to spend. We cancelled; with absolutely no bother whatsoever.

After doubly, trebly, quadruply checking all our necessary forms, Covid related, Esta related, location checker related, Verifly – which was an Aer Lingus app that linked to our passport and all necessary documents – we were on a Flight, leaving our dogs in the loving and capable hands of our son and girlfriend. Just a note of caution, my husband goes by the name of “Dan” but of course, his passport had “Daniel Joseph”. This caused him to unleash lots of blue air around his head as he tried to link the various papers. We landed in a sunny, but brisk New York and got a yellow taxi outside. Ignore various random people offering taxis; the yellow ones offer a set fare of $63 plus any bridge or tunnel tolls. But don’t forget – and this was our first introduction to the tipping service of 20% that was across the board everywhere you went – a tip is obligatory. 20% is the minimum tip and you just feel you are subsidising wages. Always happy to tip when service is good and a bit of charm is thrown in for good measure but loathe though I am to say it, Taxi drivers were, on the most part, unfriendly.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot………”

We stayed in, an Art Deco Hotel, in the Flatiron District,  within walking distance to Midtown and Chelsea, shopping on Lower Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building and right beside The Museum of Sex………….. quickly put our bags into our very nice room with lovely Art Deco fittings and set out to find something to eat and have a little nosey around the area.

Madison Square
A walk to the Flatiron Building

We found a vast, bright and airy Indoor Italian Food Market called Eataly, very close to the Flatiron. Opened in 2007, it’s part restaurant complex, part food market. Rare Italian wines, cheeses, fresh breads, seafood and meats sourced locally or flown in from Italy, to be had. It was buzzing and wonderful. We shared a seafood starter, had two great seafood pasta mains and Prosecco. We wandered around the area a little as Madison Square was just across the road. All the pooches were out for their evening stroll, very well behaved, but we both just imagined our two setters and lurcher in such an environ. No chance to run free and cause general mayhem, but I’m glad they have space. Gramercy Park is close and is the city’s only private park and residents of the surrounding buildings have keys to the gate. I was dying to see the Brownstone Buildings, so reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw. Cue chiffon skirt, blown by air vents. When you know, you know. There is a lovely Brownstone at 15 Gramercy Park South, which houses the National Arts Club. We took a walk to what is described as “an atmospheric” bar, called Pete’s Tavern. Yes, had loads of atmosphere, but also Covid still existed, so we held off. In fairness, all establishments required a Covid Pass and some form of identification before you were allowed in. We also passed Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace. It was late in the evening at this stage, so we didn’t go in, but the Guidebook states it holds exhibits, and is reconstructed to imitate his boyhood home.

Next morning, breakfast was very simple fare and self service . Absolutely fine, but nothing to write home about . Prior to arriving, we had booked a New York City pass, which allows you choose the sights you want to see. There are a number of City Pass options; the one that we opted for, which cost €120.00 per person, allowed us to choose up to 5 locations. We had an itinerary which had the five spots that we wanted to see on this trip. In fact, we only used three of them (I’ll explain this later).

However, for our first day we decided to buy tickets for the Big Bus on/off tours to enable us get our bearings on the city. Some of the City Pass options include this so you might want to check that. We bought the tickets through a company called Viator The Blue bus took us Uptown and the Red, Downtown. They are open top, with a covered in section at the front – luckily, as it was raining badly. You get the usual ear plugs to listen to the commentary, which is wisecracking, but ultimately grating and uninformative; still the best way to get a feeling for the city. The Downtown bus left us in Times Square, and we walked about “100 miles” to get to Chelsea Market for lunch and just loved the whole vibe and promised ourselves we’d return. We then walked the High Line which is at the back of Chelsea Market. This is a transformed, disused railroad linking Midtown, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, (which happened to be closed).

Highline crossing 10th Avenue
High Line Water Tower

Behind Chelsea Market is Pier 54, which was the pier the Lusitania left from and the Titanic was to arrive at. There appears to be a lovely open air theatre built, which on a day very unlike the one we were walking in, would be lovely. Great views of Lower Manhatten and the Jersey shoreline. We then got back onto the High Line and walked to its end at Hudson Yards.

Pier 54

Hudson Yards is New York’s newest neighbourhood and home to more than 100 diverse, very exclusive shops and culinary experiences and really, really rich people. We nearly ran through the shops for fear of being stopped for looking so bedraggled. We returned to Times Square to pick up the Uptown Bus which took us past the MET and Central Park.

We ate in an Italian restaurant called Patsie’s near 52nd Street, which was ok and very friendly. A Canadian friend of mine, suggested another very good Italian called Osteria Morini which we think would have been much better. We had booked the Circle Line Boat Tour. which departed from 83 North River Piers West 43rd Street. We booked, once again, on Viator and it was around €40.00 per person. This was brilliant. The twinkling lights of Manhattan, Jersey Shore, Brooklyn, Queens, Statue of Liberty lit up, under the bridges and a terrific guide who was full of information, all added to a wonderful evening. Well worth the trip which took about two hours. A drink was had back in the hotel to relive our day and rest our weary bones.

Next morning, Dan had organised a Secret Food tour around Greenwich I just love these and what was even better, the weather had turned into summer overnight. We walked around Christopher Street, the symbolic heart of New York’s lesbian and gay community. Here among the cafes is the site of the formerly Mafia run Stonewall Inn (now a gay-pride-flag-waving Karaoke bar) and of the eventual Stonewall Riots of 1969. There is a gated triangle known as Christopher Park where commemorative statues of four life-size white painted figures (a gay couple and a lesbian couple) have been since their unveiling in 1992.

Christopher Park

We met our guide close by. His name was Nicky and he was just great. He had come to New York for love and his acting career. So far, he had dressed as a bear on Broadway but was going for an audition the following day; its hard graft to succeed in this career, as I well know, and I would absolutely love to know how he did. Anyway, the tour included MacDougal Street, Bleeker Street, Grove Street. We both said that if we ever returned, Greenwich is where we would like to stay. We ate Falafal, Bagels (divine, I never like them here), Cupcakes, Taco – a mix of Indian and Mexican, and the most amazing pizza in Two Boots , doughnuts. We passed some lovely little cul de sacs with a house that was 8 feet in width and was being sold for $5 million. Also a shout out to the “Friends” building on Grove Street

Friends Building on Grove Street.
Doughnuts to die for

We pottered by ourselves through Washington Square Park and Mews. Lovely area. We ventured on the subway for the first time. Getting tickets is straightforward. You can buy one card, which can be used by more than one person. When buying a card, it asks for your Zip code, and anyone who is not American is advised to put in “99999”. A word of caution, the subway goes Uptown and Downtown so just make sure you go through the right turnstiles, because once you go through, you can’t make your way across to the correct side for you in some of the stations. This sounds like common sense, but believe me – we got caught twice. The other useful thing is to download the New York subway app. Invaluable.

Our nearest Subway (Uptown and downtown!!)

We had been told by my cousin about this amazing book store called The Strand So worth a visit. You could browse for hours. And funnily enough, all the books we knew had different sleeves; just an observation. Go! We had booked the Empire State building via our City pass. Also well worth a visit. We strolled up Broadway to get there, and the beauty of this time of year was that there was no queuing. Covid pass and passport later and up we go, glad of our fleeces and hats at this stage. The view is tremendous from all 102 stories. The lift speeds you on your way, and King Kong failed to grab this blonde old broad.

Empire State Building
Empire State

Each night the top of the Empire State Building is lit with different colours. My second photo is lit with the Ukranian colours during this dreadful time.

Queens from The Empire State Building

We hit Chelsea Market or rather, right beside it, for a meal we had booked online. We had been told that Buddakan was worth going to for the Dim Sum alone. “Vivid flavours of the Far East in a surreal atmosphere that marries the serenity of Asia with the flamboyance of 16th century Paris”. It didn’t fail. It was young and vibrant and had an interesting, cavern-like ambience with art, sparkling chandeliers, guilded touches, brick walls, intimate corners and the prettiest waiters (male and female) I ever did see. We couldn’t get the Taster Menu, as there was only the two of us, but we dined so well. Worth a visit. Taxi back to hotel, sated.

On Thursday, we had decided to do the Boat tour of a visit to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. (This was the second of our City Pass tours) After boarding the ferry from Manhattan after a short queue, it was a quick trip to land on the grounds of Liberty Island and to go inside the Statue of Liberty Museum. So interesting to learn how the Statue was built in France and disassembled and shipped to New York in 1885. It was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, constructed of copper to make the structure lighter. Gustave Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower fame in Paris, created the internal structure to support the outer copper skin. All fascinating, as there are films and stills of the construction and you get to see the sheer scale of the monument. It was a bitterly cold day, and we were very happy to have a snack in the cafe. It’s basic fare, but very good; dine in and takeaway so could be great on a sunny day with children.

The lady herself

Dan was never a dancer, always treading on a lady’s toes

Then a short hop on the ferry to Ellis Island to learn about the millions of people who arrived here between 1892 and 1954 in hope of living the American dream. I loved this. I would have liked a more interactive museum, one whereby an account of their lives was retold by certain individuals – just to bring it even more alive. But it was still so very interesting. History was told with the help of wonderful photographs and voices of actual immigrants. 12 million people passed through Ellis Island’s gates, all having to pass social and health questions before gaining admission to create their own dream. Some poignant stories to be heard.

Next stop, the 9/11 Memorial – Ground Zero (The third of our City Pass tours)

Trade Centre
Memorial rose at The Trade Centre

This was unforgettable, moving and so tastefully honouring those who lost their lives in 2001. On the ground interviews, constant recording of voices, naming relations who died; it’s heartbreaking stuff. The story is told through artifacts, original walls of either or both of The Twin Towers, fire engines used in the aftermath and a tribute wall of people who have died; cameras obviously not allowed. There is also a section on the dogs who comforted responders and the families of the victims and searched the wreckages. Ten years after the attack, the photographer, Charlotte Dumas, was curious about the fates of these dogs and travelled the length and breadth of the United States to capture portraits of them in retirement.

We went back to the hotel after this, changed and got a taxi in rush hour traffic to go to an incredible restaurant nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge called River Cafe It was fine dining at its best. The most romantic spot, surrounded by fairy lights and cobbled stones, cocktails at the bar looking out on the Lower Manhattan skyline, wonderful food and even a little stool rest for my handbag………..we mortgaged the house to come here. Not cheap, but incredible food.

An anniversary, celebrated at long last (phone image)

Took the NYC Ferry back to Wall Street to get a taxi to hotel. (Again there is an app available to purchase tickets, plan routes etc.)

Next day, it was snowing…yes, we almost got all four seasons during our stay. We had booked our Top of the Rock Observation Deck with our City Pass – our fourth tour – but visibility was far too poor and they closed it for the day. Onwards towards Central Park. We walked in by the John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields, 72nd Street on George Harrison’s birthday; quite apt. The memorial is quite close to Lennon’s apartments. We strolled through a very quiet and atmospheric park, using one of the available apps to talk us through. It’s a beautiful oasis in a very busy city.

A wintery Central Park
Central Park

The last of our City Pass plans had been the MET, but possibly because of such a bad day and people wanting to be inside, the queue was very very long and we had plans later. So, instead we went in search of food and had THE most divine bagel in a place called Tal Bagels. The glass cabinet had cream cheeses piled high, each with different additions, such as peppers, tuna, chicken, spices etc.

My niece had recommended a tour of The Tenement Buildings on Orchard Street Oh, do not miss this if you are like us and love hearing how the ordinary folk survived and lived. You can see a film beforehand if you arrive before your allotted time as you have to book, which follows the creation of and desire for the museum. You can choose which tour to attend. There are actual building tours of the recreated homes of former residents between the 1860s and the 1980s as well as walking tours of the neighbourhood they lived in. We chose the story of the Baldizzi family who lived in 97 Orchard Street during the Great Depression. One of the Baldizzi girls was alive up until very recently. She talked of having fun at a tiny table with her dad, who played with them all day as their mother worked in a clothes factory. This was, of course, because he was out of work. Shared water closets and windows within the rooms, looking into the next door neighbour’s flat with no privacy; small, pokey, dark and gloomy, crowded by a large family but remembered by this woman, as a place of love and friendship.

Image of hall, taken from website

Because we hadn’t yet seen a show on Broadway, and I know that any one of them would have been spectacular, we booked a show Off-Broadway, which means it holds less than 500, nothing whatsoever to do with location which was news to me. It was a terrific, audience participation show called Drunken Shakespeare. Basically taking the p*** on Macbeth. Great fun. Burger and chips off Broadway and hotel.

Our last morning was spent going around the shops, mainly Macy’s as we don’t have here and there was a little grandson to be bought for. I’m writing very little on shopping and I know that there are some great outlets to go visit. It really wasn’t the main focus of the trip and anyway, Dan has to be dragged screaming and kicking at the outset. Then he succumbs!

As you can see, we only got to use three of the City Pass Tours, so it is questionable whether it is better to book the tours individually, to be more money savvy and also to be more discerning as to what you choose in each given season.

All in all, a jam packed trip. But the question is would we return? I very much liked New York, had a wonderful time, but I have loved some European cities. That’s my answer.

Bren xx

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