The thing about New York is, you think you know it, but in reality you have no idea. It's kind of like judging a book by its cover. You've seen so many television shows and movies set in the Big Apple that when you are headed there you think you've already seen the sights. In truth, I am one of those people. I thought I'd hate it too. Too many brassy, pushy Yanks for my liking. But in all honesty I was wrong on both counts. And just like I learnt to look closer at the real Manhattan, I also looked closer at the real New Yorker. And I was pleasantly surprised that I liked both.
Getting to New York should have been simple. You go to Heathrow, check in, go through security, wait for your plane to be called and board your plane. Then it flies to New York, you get off, go through security and you walk out onto the sidewalk of the city. Not quite the way it happened for Vic and I though. Sure, we made it all the way up to the bit where your plan is called. Ours didn't get called. At all. For more than 3 hours after the scheduled departure time. So our grand plan of being there 3 hours before boarding actually ended up being a 6 and a half hour wait. Even I couldn't shop for that long. And that is saying something!
After sweet talking a security lady she let slip that our plane would be arriving at Gate 20. It had been delayed in Kuwait because the Indian airport was running behind schedule. Vic and I were not only the first people into the gate lounge we were also the first people on the plane. That's where 6 hours of waiting gets you. Plus we were lucky to get emergency exit seats. Not sure the steward liked my dramatic rendition of what would happen if we had to open the emergency door. I keep getting strange looks all flight.
Arriving in New York, we got the shuttle bus from hell to our hotel, Astor on the Park on Central Park West. The shuttle bus driver was a "stopstartstopstartstopstart" kind of driver who left us sitting in the bus outside for 20mins while he went and had a smoke whilst waiting for a mystery passenger. I should also mention that at this point we discovered that 0 degree temperatures would be the norm. Our hotel was great however, and if you ever find yourself in the Big Apple searching for a place to lay your weary head then the Astor on the Park is an affordable and clean place to do it.
The Easter Bunny found me on Sunday morning and we had to have some chocolate for breakie (don't read that bit Mum)! I had read an article in a travel magazine not long ago about the Abyssinian Church which is a huge church in Harlem which specialises in Southern style black gospel music. This quickly became the top item on my "Must See" list. Unfortunately though, the minister met us at our cab and explained that they were closed to the public on Easter Sunday due to the high number of families coming to church. I am not sure what surprised me more, being turned away from God's house on Easter Sunday or being turned away immediately because we were white. That's not a negative racist comment, rather an observation based on the fact that no white person was granted entry into the church in the time that we were there. Instead of going to church as planned, Vic and I celebrated Easter Sunday in style... a window seat at the McDonald's across the road. Far from being completely disappointed, it was fun to window watch all the black families coming to church in their Sunday best. I loved watching the grannys wearing their pastel dresses with sparkling and shiny brooches on their lapels with matching pastel heels. Their hats brought a smile to my face as they had as much netting, flowers and pearls as a bride's tiara on her wedding day.
I got to ride the subway for the first time too at 135st and even though it was a mess with dirt and grime the decor, I never once felt unsafe. I'd even go so far as to say that during my whole time in New York I felt safer there than I do in London some days.
By accident we got off the subway/train/tube/whatever you call it (thank you Vic) at the World Trade Centre site. I wasn't a happy person at this point because I wasn't completely convinced that I wanted to see it. The whole 9/11 thing sits funny with me. I think it has to do with the fact that firefighters, people who have the same basic training as me, died there. New York's backbone is now fused with 9/11 and it almost seems that you can't have one without the other. In the end I am glad that I went there by mistake and right at the beginning because if I had had time to think about it I would have over analyzed it. It is an extremely moving place and you reflect a lot on the human spirit rather than the actual tragedy. There is a photo plaque on one of the fences and one photo shows a policeman saluting at one of the processions that would have lined the streets during the months following the collapse of the buildings. There is a single stream of tears that etch a line across his cheek. Even as I type this I have goosebumps. I can't really tell you what I was thinking or what it was like. In some ways I think it might cheapen the experience. All I can say is "Go" and feel it for yourself.
Vic decided that we should have a look at where the Statue of Liberty was so we began to walk down to the piers. If I had been standing naked at the North Pole for 100 years I would not be as cold as I was during that walk. Between the wind and the actual temperature my eyelashes began to fuse together. In a combination of needing to get out of the cold and me vowing never to walk there again we caught the Circle Line ferry service out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Going to Ellis Island was like going on a school excursion. You're all excited because you don't have to be in class but when you get there you realise that you have been tricked and it is as boring as ever. I was only interested in going because I had heard that most people don't visit it when they go to New York and I felt sorry for it. There you go. I've said it and yes, I do realise what a loser I am, thank you very much.
Liberty Island is a must see on anyone's list and I had the biggest blonde moment on our walking tour. I didn't realise that the Statue of Liberty was made of copper sheeting. Der! And that it originally wasn't green. I, for some reason, thought that the green was representative of the "greenback" or something similar. Despite being sub zero temperatures Vic and I changed our original plans at the last minute and waited for the 3pm walking tour. It turned out that we were the only ones brave enough to face the snow (yes, snow!!!) and we had the tour guide all to ourselves. He did like to waffle on though. I now know far to much about some chick who wrote a poem about the Statue but was left off the invite list for the unveiling party. It didn't matter though because the guy in charge of pulling the cord that unveiled the statue forgot his cue and dropped the sheeting a good 15 mins early. The Statue itself is unimpressive. I actually thought it would be much bigger. Especially since it squashed the marshmallow man in Ghost Busters 1. But the feat of building it and erecting it on the island is very worthy of note and when you see the small crinks in the sheeting that make the arm extend upwards you have to take your hat off to the guys who not only built the thing but designed it in the first place.
Vic had an even bigger blonde moment than me on Liberty Island when she asked where the flagpole was. I will let you see for yourself the answer in the photo. Had a huge cackle when the guide actually answered her. Note - flagpole next to information booth. She followed this fine effort up with another pearler...asking the policeman where Times Square was only to be told that she was standing in it! Don't let her persuade you that this wasn't the case either. She still denies it to everyone but we know the truth. :)
Times Square is again, smaller than you think it is. I do like the fact that you can come out of your restaurant at 11pm and think it is 11am since the electronic billboards make it so bright. Really wish it had been a blackout as the guy in the g-string leotard jogged past us. Some people should really learn that "private parts" should stay private for the benefit of all mankind. He obviously missed that memo though as he jogged past us not once but twice.
My 27th birthday was spent on top of the Empire State Building. For the pricely sum of $US50 you can go all the way up to the 102nd floor. Even though the 102nd floor is about the size of my living room it is worth it just to say "I've been there". Plus, it has only just recently been re-opened to the public since 9/11. Vic and I only really did it because you got to jump the queue. Jumping the queue is a Vic specialty. She managed to get us out of 2 hours of lining up just by asking the doorman where the line actually started. What he didn't see we didn't see and we were allowed to by pass the outside line and head straight into the inside one. The view is pretty spectacular but I preferred the one from Rockefeller Centre better. You feel a bit caged in on the Empire State Building and every man, his family and the dog are up on the Empire State Building. I did like being able to see all the way down to the end of Lower Manhattan. I also listened to a audio tour from some Italian cab driver. That was worth the money paid three fold because I found out where the Titanic docked and how the skyline used to look at the turn of the 19th & 20th centuries.
Vic and I split up on Tuesday and I went to the Woodbury Common Factory Outlet Shopping Centre. Got to take the bus out through New Jersey and see a little bit of what lies beyond the Hudson River. Had a fabulous time wandering around the centre which is built as a village. Picked up a few bargains but none better than the Samsonite luggage that worked out to be less than £150. My suitcase was torn on the trip over by customs and I had to replace it. Am very pleased that I replaced it with not only affordable but excellent quality Samsonite. The Canal Street markets were on Karen's "Go and See" list that she gave me so we wandered up and down the street looking at all the handbags and jewellery available. Vic picked up some great perfume. I will say that if one more person comes up to me and stage whispers "Handbag? Handbag? Gucci? Prada? Chanel? Chloe?" I am going to hit them with a big, fat, knobbly stick. It gets very tiresome after awhile.
Our last full day in the city was spent at Rockefeller Centre. I wasn't keen on going but Vic persuaded me and I am very glad that she did. It was actually my favourite place in the city and by far my most fond memory. The view from the top is more spectacular than the Empire State Building and the atmosphere is electric. The elevator ride up to the top is great fun because the roof is glass and as you enter you can't tell but then the lift begins to move and lights draw your attention upwards and with your head tilted back you ascend 68 floors in less than 9 seconds. Great fun for me, not so much for Vic, who isn't the greatest fan of heights. I will give her "snaps" though for stomaching it and looking up too. Another great reason to favour the Rockefeller Centre is that it is more of a rounded experience. There are the television studios to visit, the Radio City music hall and the ice-rink in the middle of it all. Plus it is only $US17.50 to go to the top.
Thought I'd better see Grand Central Station before we went home and take a few photos as well as visit Central Park. We walked through the Park for two hours and managed to cover much more than we originally anticipated. It is very easy to get lost in not only your thoughts but also in general. There are some videos of Vic and I in the park in my first New York posting. Just scroll down to take a squizz.
Our last dinner was at Serendipity, the restaurant made famous by the movie of the same name. Words don't do justice to the Frozen Hot Chocolate. I won't spoil it. Just go and eat one. But a word of warning. There is a wait for a table and ours was an hour and cost Vic $US200. Okay, so that was more for the outfit she bought at Bloomingdale's while we were waiting the hour but still... :)