Last year I realized a dream that I had had for many years. I was at last able to visit the city of my dreams; New York. Albeit without my non-flying partner but instead, with his nephew James who would be celebrating his 19th birthday on the last day of the trip. I booked in advance, the places I didn’t want to miss. The internet is a wonderful thing; in a click of a button I had booked our passes for the 9/11 Memorial and the Sex and the city tour, not to mention the flights and hotel! I knew all the places I wanted to visit because I had a mental list in my head for so long and wasn’t sure if I would fit them all in but I would have a jolly good try!
We landed at JFK after our very pleasant Virgin flight (well you have to live a little!) on Thanksgiving day. The airport was suspiciously quiet and it seemed that we were the only flight landing. It was a crisp sunny day but cold, very cold. Which is why I purchased some thermals in preparation!
After clearing the airport we found ourselves a coach that would take us to the city centre and off we went. The coach dropped us off at the back of Grand Central station and it was a short walk to our hotel on 31st street. The first thing we saw out of our hotel window was the Empire State Building, it was just around the corner!
Due to its close location, we decided to go there first. First Avenue was on the right hand corner from the hotel, so we were on the main drag straight away. A couple of “blocks” (and they really are blocks), we were outside the Empire State; this information we gleaned from the long queue and the amount of touts outside demanding “going up?” every few seconds. In fact, we did get ripped off, falling for their flannel and thought we had bought an express pass to avoid the long queues but instead had bought a multi pass for entrance to the Empire State Building and somewhere else that we had no intention of visiting! I put it down to jet lag and vowed not to be so gullible again. So we queued for 2 hours. When we started out, the sky was clear blue but when we finally got to the top, it was pitch black and very eery. I didn’t realize that the elevators were remote controlled and wizzed up so fast, it made my ears pop! The elevator only takes you to the 80th floor though; you have to climb the last 6 floors by foot to the Observatory. It was so quiet, I think people were awe-struck by the views. After a long day and a Chinese meal on the Fifth Avenue, we went back to the hotel to watch TV before turning in at 9pm New York time.
Then a very strange thing happened in the middle of the night. I got up to go to the bathroom and took my phone with me to check the time, so as not to disturb James. My phone had two different time zones on it. One said 2.30 am and the other 7.30am. My body was telling me it was 7.30 because it felt like getting up. For a split second I could not work out which one it was. This was my first experience of jet lag and once I realized what the correct time was, I was pleasantly surprised that I still had five more hours of sleep left. The only thing was that I was worried I would wake up too late and miss the trip I had planned. I needn’t have worried because I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, all excited to go on the Sex and the city tour at 11.
After a thirty block hike down Fifth Avenue and breakfast on the hoof, we made it to the queue, where a Carrie lookalike was waiting with her clipboard and ticked us off. The bus had screens showing scenes from the show and two films, as we passed corresponding locations outside the window. There was a quiz to test our knowledge of the show and I was surprised that the one who got the most questions right, was somebody’s husband. It was a hoot! First stop was a sex shop called the Pleasure chest, where prudish Charlotte bought her first “Rabbit.” Then we went to Greenwich Village, which was my favourite spot. We spent quite a lot of time here and it is where most of the show was filmed. “Carrie” had got us all a muffin from the Magnolia Bakery, now famous from being on the show and it was delicious.
We also visited the bar, O’Neill’s that Carrie and Miranda’s boyfriends owned, where we had a Manhattan cocktail and James had a virgin version. We visited the restaurant Buddhakahn, where Carrie had her “last single girl kiss” in the first film, and many photos taken at the bar of the restaurant. Back on the coach past more scenes from the show,then back to the HBO shop at the end of the tour, waiting for our souvenir-spending dollars!
Next on the list was Grand Central station for lunch in the basement concourse. And it was well worth visiting because it is a stunning place and straight out of the movies with its amazing architecture After a brief lunch in the crowded fast food concourse, we continued our sightseeing adventures. We walked to the Rockefeller Centre to see the Christmas lights and the famous ice skating rink. It truly was Christmassy and everybody was in a festive and Thanksgiving mood and were happy to talk to us and share their good will. It was very packed here and we watched the ice-skaters, without partaking ourselves.
One of the many reasons that I wanted to go to New York was that I write as a hobby and had almost finished a story set in the city and wanted to experience it for myself so that I could put the finishing touches to it. (Well that’s my excuse!). So I tried to go to the places that my characters had gone to in more or less the same order and so far I had. Call it research! I have to say, it was useful and I have changed much of the details of certain places so that they are accurate.
Next, we walked again (my poor feet!) past Radio City, which I couldn’t pass without photographing, onto Times Square. Now, out of all the places that we visited, this was by far the busiest. It was heaving. There was some construction going on in the road, which caused some upheaval but didn’t stop the many street performers doing their “thing” outside in the freezing cold. Two guys were actually almost naked, wearing only huge Stetsons, UNDERPANTS and cowboy boots. Boy, did I feel sorry for them! The bright lights almost dazzled me to the point of needing sunglasses but it was all in the spirit of the place. I had to make a quick dash into the Disney Store to get a present acquisitioned by a family member and was confronted by a sea of Frozen merchandise, just before it took off here which was a nuisance ( I could have made a killing otherwise!). The staff were sickly-sweet and kept saying “have a magical day now”, every time I purchased something. Yuk! I prized my way out of there feeling lucky to be alive!
My poor feet couldn’t take any more and so when I spotted the Hard Rock Café, made a bee line for it. I just had to sit down – anywhere. Poor James had to stand behind me with his root beer while I sat at the bar because he wasn’t allowed to sit at the bar while we waited for our meal. Luckily it wasn’t long and I enjoyed my Platinum Margarita. The dining area was huge and it was great just to people watch while we ate our fajitas. After another couple of cocktails, the jet lag really started to kick in and all I wanted to do was sleep but we ended up walking again back to the hotel because we couldn’t find a cab. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, according to James!
The next day I awoke at 5am, still adjusting to the time difference but dozed back to sleep until about 8. The sun was still shining and it was still crisp and breezy but time was short, so this time we did hail a cab to Pier 84 to board the New York Water Taxi to take us to the 9/11 Memorial. When we got there, James noticed the Intrepid was next door and being an avid aircraft fan, he was interested in going if we had enough time when we got back. I could hardly argue as he was doing all the things I wanted to do quite happily and there was an actual Concorde on the grounds which was of particular interest.
We boarded the taxi/boat and were entertained by a very amusing man from New Jersey, who pointed out places of interest along the way on the Hudson River, like the famous Skyline. It was a “Hop on, Hop off” deal and we were going to get off at Battery Park for the Financial District and then get back on to be taken to the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge which we would see from the boat.
We had a little time to find breakfast in a deli before we were due to arrive at our pass time at twelve and then walked towards Freedom Tower, a huge new building built opposite the site of the twin towers that fell, knowing that we were going in the right direction. The signs helped and it was not long before we got to a place that was still boarded up, so you couldn’t see the whole site from there even though it had been completed. Then we saw the queues that snaked around the site for quite a long way and started queuing. I think they were longer because it was Thanksgiving; there seemed to be a lot of “out of towners” there. It took an hour until we got through the Airport style Security, which was understandable but by now it was one o’clock. The area had been planted with trees and was vast. The fountains which were built in the footfalls of the two buildings came into view and everybody was well behaved and respectful and it didn’t seem crowded. I guess if they let everybody in at the same time, it would have been too busy and not appropriate.
The four sides of each waterfall were made of bronze and the names of each person who perished, were cut out into the bronze in order of which building they were associated with. The numbers of each Flight that crashed into the buildings and the passengers within, were listed in order, so as to make it easier for loved ones to find and place a rose or a flag to mark their respect. There were many of these flags and white roses, which I found very poignant. The Fire Department divisions and Police Departments that attended were also in order and the names of each person were under the corresponding department. One thing that really struck me, and I wasn’t expecting, was the amount of women’s names with the added “and her unborn child.” It really got to me; that there were souls that were snuffed out before they were even born. I shed a tear and moved on, grateful that I hadn’t had to suffer such a tragedy in my life. James was really touched by the whole experience as well.
After such a moving experience, it was time to move on with the rest of the sightseeing. We went back to Battery Park to catch the water taxi, where another queue had built. This time queuing was a more pleasant experience because we were entertained by a Rastafarian busker, who had seized the opportunity while he had a captive audience. He was hilarious and picked on people in the queue and asked them where they were from etc etc and then sang about them. Including me! Then he passed around what could only be described as a “yard of ale” type vessel which was crammed with dollar notes, to which I added my 5 dollar bill, for his front!
We boarded the boat (water taxi) to the Statue of Liberty for a photo shoot and as we approached the green lady, the boat slowed down to a halt and music came from the tannoy; to the tune of “New York, New York,” by old blue eyes himself and I swear I damn near welled up. I was lost in the pinch myself again moment and then “God bless America,” swiftly followed by my favourite – “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keyes. Only in America, I thought. Many photos were taken and by now it was really cold and windy on that old Hudson River on the top deck, so I was glad for my thermals!
Next stop, the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to walk across it but seeing it was second best, we stopped briefly for another photo shoot, then back to Pier 84 with the compere pointing out places of interest on the New Jersey side, of which, there were not many!
As promised, we visited the Intrepid, which was an old aircraft carrier of the US Navy and now housed a museum and many vintage aircraft of all descriptions and Concorde in its grounds and James was in his element. It was interesting inside but the best part was the café, which was in the warm and gave us time to thaw out a bit with a nice cup of tea and a slice of red velvet cake.
On the way back to the hotel (on foot again, ouch!), we swung by Macys, which was very Christmassy from outside but I wasn’t impressed on the inside. This was probably due to the state of my over-walked feet, so we only had a quick look and whilst I was going down a small flight of stairs, I did something to my knee and couldn’t help but let out a loud yelp, which alarmed a Chinese man in front of me – I think he thought he had done something. I spent the rest of the trip hobbling around everywhere like an old lady! I had had enough of walking by now and had to rest in the hotel when we got back, only going for a meal in a restaurant round the corner for chicken and mash.
The next day was our last and James’s birthday. His mum and dad had Skyped him the previous evening, 5 hours behind in England, so was midnight their time and only 7 in New York. We had both decided that we wanted to go to Central Park today and as we knew full well where it was because we had been up and down Fifth Avenue a couple of times already and it was at the top, we could take a slow stroll (with my gammy knee!) and take in the sights a bit better. After a huge breakfast in Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Doughnuts, opposite our hotel, we set off at a leisurely pace. It wasn’t so cold today, which was Sunday, so the 30 block walk was easy. We passed all the designer stores and Tiffany’s, photographing as we went. I was surprised at how many churches there were on the way, I counted 3 including the impressive St Patrick’s Cathedral, which was covered in scaffolding which was a shame because it’s an impressive building. We passed the New York Library which is where Carrie got (or not, as it turned out) get married to “Big”. Trump Tower, Plaza on the Park and the French cinema Philomena, also in the SATC show all passed by in slow motion, not to mention all the “ordinary” shops like H&M, where they had actual DJ’s playing loud music all day and there were about 3 different branches in Fifth Avenue alone.
Eventually, we got to Central Park and the first thing we did was sit on a bench to watch the world go by, surrounded by skyscrapers. Then we went to see all those lovely bridges that you see in films like “Home alone” and it was quite exciting being in a place that had been filmed so many times; it was almost like I had been there before. We walked around and there were many street vendors and performers; you could easily be there all day and be entertained. We watched the ice skaters on the rink, making it even more atmospheric. James bought a bag of nuts and we sat down on another bench and had a heart to heart about stuff and it was surreal. I couldn’t help thinking – am I really having this conversation in the middle of Central Park, New York? We resisted the urge to take a horse drawn carriage ride around the place, though many did. James spotted a wedding couple having their photo taken on a hill; we were not sure if they were models or a real wedding couple but if they were; what a location for your wedding photo’s. We watched a group of street entertainers do an act which needed full audience participation for about half an hour before they sent various caps around the crowd that had gathered, for tips. They must have made a fortune by the amount that was in each cap. The sun started to disappear behind the trees and we realized that we had to make our way back to the hotel for the coach trip back to JFK.
We were sad to depart and there were a few things on my “list” that we hadn’t managed to do but I vowed that I would come back one day soon. The only difference would be that I would use the “Hop on, Hop off” bus next time and spare my poor feet.
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