Monday, March 01, 2010

so good I blogged it twice

Here's a few "what we did on holiday" New York notes for you. Needless to say with a few variations in my own inimitable idiom what we did on holiday in New York is what most first time New York visitors probably do, so if you find it all deeply tedious and predictable then I apologise. Move along, nothing to see here. If you're sticking around you might want to view the photo gallery in conjunction with reading this.
  • We booked flights with KLM from Heathrow to JFK, but via some crazy code-sharing business I don't claim to fully understand we ended up actually flying with Delta. No complaints, mind you, apart from the general one of not enjoying being on an aeroplane at all, anyway. In fact I hadn't been on a flight outside short hops to various European destinations since flying to New Zealand back in early 2001. As it happens this flight (despite being around 7 hours each way) was less stressful in some ways than the short hops, for a few reasons: firstly there was complimentary booze available, in particular some very generous plastic tumblers of red wine which I guzzled several of, and secondly they had the little TV screens in the back of the seats in front, which have the flight information (altitude, airspeed, etc.) and the little map available, which I find oddly reassuring for no doubt highly irrational reasons. There were also various TV shows and films available, from my perusal of which I can tell you that the TV series 30 Rock and Californication (neither of which I'd seen before) are both quite good, as are the films Up (Pixar's latest) and District 9 (giant alien prawns land in Johannesburg!). I found The Informant! a bit baffling, though, though to be fair we were well into the return flight by then, so it might have been the wine. Further in-flight entertainment was provided by Delta having the campest male cabin staff in the world (a hotly contested title as you can imagine) - my personal highlight of the whole trip was when the cabin steward who was handing out drinks leaned in close to the slightly gormless giant blond bloke across the aisle from me and told him that he looked just like he'd always imagined Howard Roark, the protagonist of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, would have looked. A more blatant invitation to head aft, as it were, and join the Mile High Man Love Club I cannot imagine.
  • Anyway, having arrived in New York we headed for the apartment we'd booked via the apartment-booking portal Holiday Velvet. Cue a slightly farcical series of attempts to locate someone who knew where the keys were - fortunately the very helpful French bloke who ran the bistro underneath the apartment block (on West 51st Street, near the intersection with Eighth Avenue) managed to let us in.
  • It was snowing quite heavily the next day so we decided to go and have a look round Central Park. After we'd done that for a while we decided we were bored of being snowed on, so we headed back down Broadway - purely by chance we noticed that the Ed Sullivan Theater had a sign up advertising tickets for The Late Show With David Letterman, so we put our names down on the list. A certain amount of mildly farcical (though mercifully indoor) queueing later we had our tickets, with only a pep talk from some horribly cheery assistants and a bit more queueing to endure before we got inside and sat down. The show we saw was the one featuring Sir Ben Kingsley and Mary J Blige and which is available on YouTube in five parts which I'm going to call parts one, two, three, four and five. We're somewhere in the middle; see if you can spot us.
  • The following morning the snow had stopped and the sun had come out, so we decided to use the tickets we'd pre-purchased for the Empire State Building. Not much new to say about this, so I'll restrict myself to recommending that you get there early (before 9am) to avoid excessive queueing, and that unless (like me) you have a mania for getting to the highest point of things then the views and photography opportunities are actually better from the outdoor gallery on the 86th floor than from the indoor one on the 102nd floor. Oh, and watch out for giant apes.
  • The Chrysler Building is in a lot of ways a more interesting building than the Empire State Building, but it's not open to the public. It was, however, the venue for the utterly fantastic monster movie Q The Winged Serpent in 1982.
  • A few words about drinking: generally it's not cheap, though obviously fluctuations in the £/$ exchange rate have a significant effect on this. Head west beyond Eighth Avenue into Hell's Kitchen and it gets cheaper - Rudy's Bar and Grill on 44th Street and Ninth Avenue in particular is well worth a visit, and they give away free hot dogs (you have to buy a drink, though, obviously). Other places we liked were the Blind Tiger on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, the Ear Inn in SoHo, and the House Of Brews (warning: they do have their own website, but it keeps crashing my browser) literally right opposite our apartment in West 51st Street.
  • Obviously you've got to sample proper New York food: highlights include a hot meatball sandwich in the Majestic Deli on 50th and 7th, cheesecake in the Ben Ash cafe on 7th Avenue, a lox and cream cheese bagel in the Cosmic Diner on 8th Avenue and a Reuben (essentially a huge open sandwich with sauerkraut, pastrami and melted Swiss cheese, with a side order of potato salad, just in case that wasn't enough) and lots of freshly squeezed orange juice at the Morning Star Cafe on 2nd Avenue. We did go posh for my birthday when Hazel took me to the View revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott Marquis on Broadway. As I recall the food was excellent, though we did piss on our chips a bit by having a few beers in the House Of Brews before going out and then a bottle of champagne before dinner, so by the time it arrived (with a bottle of wine) we were hammered. Oh well.
  • We went to see a basketball game at Madison Square Garden - the New York Knicks against the Chicago Bulls. All quite exciting, though the Knicks lost 115-109 in the end, which was still slightly better than they'd done the previous night. Madison Square Garden fact: it was built on the demolished rubbly remains of the impossibly magnificent architectural grandeur that was Pennsylvania Station. The resulting storm of protest ensured not only that you'd never get away with anything similar today, but also ensured the survival of certain specific New York landmarks, notably St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, which you'll see from the photos on the linked Wikipedia page has gradually been surrounded over the last century or so by higher and higher neighbours. It reminds me of the Crimson Permanent Assurance.
  • You need to pre-book for the cruise round New York Harbour that takes in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island if you want to avoid lots of queueing and possible disappointment. There is also an airport-style security check at the quay before departure and another one before they let you inside the statue once you're on the island, so be prepared to queue either way. You can go up the winding staircase to the top of the statue, but they limit it to small groups and you seem to have to book several months in advance, so we had to content ourselves with going to the top of the pedestal on which the statue stands and looking up her skirt.
  • You'll know I have a bit of a fascination with bridges, and suspension bridges in particular. To indulge me we went for a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and then back over the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. New York's various suspension bridges have held the title of world's longest many times over the years: the Brooklyn Bridge from 1883 to 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge a bit further up the East River from 1903 to 1924, the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson between Manhattan and New Jersey between 1931 and 1937 and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island between 1964 and 1981. Other bridges are available: the Bayonne Bridge between Staten Island and New Jersey was the longest steel arch bridge in the world between 1931 and 1977 and was also the bridge that got blown up at the beginning of the Spielberg/Cruise War Of The Worlds film a few years ago.
  • There isn't really much to see at Ground Zero, but you sort of feel you have to make a pilgrimage anyway. Building work progress can be monitored here.
  • The Staten Island Ferry is completely free, and thus represents one of the best sightseeing bargains in the city. But I don't really want to see Staten Island, you say. Well, that's OK, because you can just cruise across the harbour looking at the sights on the way, get off the ferry, turn round and get straight back on again, and come back. Round trip time is about an hour, and, just to recap, it's free.
  • The Museum of Modern Art is worth a visit, if you like, erm, modern art. Which reminds me, we had two celebrity encounters during the trip: the first one was BBC journalist and occasional Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler at Hammersmith tube station. No sign of his new "violinist vixen lover", though. The second was Usual Suspects star Gabriel Byrne in the cloakroom queue at MoMA. Looking a bit old these days, but then again he will be 60 in May.
  • We made a brief pilgrimage to the Dakota Building on 72nd Street, venue for John Lennon's murder in 1980 as mentioned in my previous book review. I gather Yoko Ono still lives there, but she didn't pop out to say hello or anything.
  • I was looking through my iTunes library to find a suitable New York song title for some inspiration for the title of this post. Not sure about inspiration, but the songs I own starting "New York" are: New York by Cat Power, New York City by T.Rex, New York Minute by Don Henley and New York, New York by Ryan Adams with its video which was shot just four days before 9/11.


Anonymous said...
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Jann said...

Nice work, sounds like you had a good time. I intend to shamelessly use this as a template for the planned visit for my 40th. Seeing as this is thankfully still a few years away I may just have time to book that trip up the statue...

electrichalibut said...

As long as you've got a head for heights I think the trip to the top would be pretty cool. I can't see how they'd get more than about ten people up there at once, though, which probably explains the need to book in advance.