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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

New York, New York

USA | Tuesday, 5 June 2012 | Views [578]

Views from top of Rockefeller Centre

Views from top of Rockefeller Centre

Thanks to the wonderful people at Jet Blue commencing direct flight from JFK to the Turks & Caicos, a short break to the Big Apple was now in our sights. Oh, what a wonderful airline - big comfy seats, personal tv screens, free snacks (making me dread my next AA flight even more) and getting through JFK Airport just reemphasises what a hellhole Miami International is.

Climbing into a yellow cab we headed to Hotel 17 (www.Hotel17ny.com) where we had booked to stay for the next 4 nights. Its a budget hotel,located in a relatively quiet area on East 17 (between 2nd & 3rd avenue), only a few minutes walk from Union Square (and so the subway). The room was small ( not even kitten swinging was possible) with a shared bathroom, but was clean and after all what can you expect for $130 a night in New York?

Once unpacked we headed out to Bricklane curry house (www.bricklanecurryhouse.com),about a 15 minute walk away. Its bold claim of being a British style indian curry house had immediatly put it on our dining list.  The restaurant was our first insight into the lack of personal space that exits in New York, with space obviously being at a premium, tables are all closely packed together (we found this everywhere we ate), meaning you almost nudge those on neighbouring tables and unwittingly become party to their conversations! The prominance of English accents confirmed that this was potentially a little piece of Britain abroad. Kingfisher lager was followed by popadoms, onion bhajis and samosas (tasty but not mind blowing). All was forgiven though with the arrival of the main course and the piece de resistance, a lamb madras!  which was certainly on par with any I'd eaten in Blighty.  Strolling back and feeling comfortably stuffed I sought out a highly recommended Irish bar called Mollys Shabeen, proceeding to indulged in a couple of well poured pints of Guinness.

Our first full day in NY started with a stroll to and around Union Square, we ate breakfast sitting on  a bench in the park just watching the world (and squirrels) go by, then fortified with Starbucks we entered the underworld, aka the subway.  Tickets bought and fighting against the tide of people (try to avoid your first experience of the subway at rush hour) we crammed ourselves into a carriage. I obviously still had memories of 1980's gang films and lone psycho stalkers operating on graffiti ridden trains, but these images quickly dissipated; the subway was clean, felt safe, was easy to use and outside of rush hour not too packed. Emerging at Time Square we walked the few blocks to the Hudson river, boarding a Circle line boat for a 2 hour cruise, affording us all the key sights from the comfort of a seat. Despite it being overcast and chilly, it was a great introduction to NY.  The Guide was top notch as we took in views of the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Ground Zero and its reconstruction, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge, the Crysler Building and the United Nations building, to name but a few. I would highly recommend it to a first time visitor to NY. Upon departure we caught the subway to Chelsea Market which is an enclosed urban food court (built in the former National Biscuit Factory - where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced).  There is so much choice and so many tantalizing foods, the coldish weather though led to us opting for a hearty soup with sour dough bread.  Feeling fortified we set our sights on the nearby High Line park (www.thehighline.org), an abandoned elevated railroad track that has been converted into a 1.5 mile long aerial urban oasis. Its become a really popular destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike as you wander along the park with buildings looming up on either side - it hasn't done the real estate prices any harm either ! That evening we ate at a raw vegan restaurant (www.purefoodandwine.com), which serves uncooked, unprocessed, organic vegan meals.  Its a concept thats increasing in popularity and Josie is becoming interested in the health aspects associated with it.  I can say I tried it and there was nothing wrong with the food itself, but considering that it was our most expensive meal during our stay, it really didn't do too much for me.

After the meal we took a leisurely stroll to the Empire State Building, arriving just as dusk fell.  We had pre bought tickets to both the main deck (86th floor) and the top deck at nearly a quarter of a mile in the sky (102nd floor).  An extra $20 had bought us express tickets, meaning we could jump to the front of all the queues; it was worth its weight in gold.  I think we probably saved between 1 - 2 hours by queue jumping - to be fair it was worth it for the dirty looks alone from the commoners who had to queue:)

The main deck was an open air observatory circling the building, providing spectacular views of downtown Manhattan in one direction and Time Square in the other.  The top deck was enclosed and provided more of the same and was only worth visiting to say you'd been to the top of the Empire State Building.

Weary legs led us back to our hotel and sleep was not long coming.

Day 2 saw us visiting the Rockefeller Centre. Queues at 10am were almost non existent, so within a few minutes we were at the 'top of the rock' observation tower. 70 floors up and with a blue sky we were rewarded with more spectacular 360 degree views, the city skyline was in one direction (including a great view of the Empire State building), whilst the sweeping green of Central Park was in the other.  Its both astounding and a credit to NY that in a city where space is at a premium, an 843 acre park can exist. We spent well over an hour enjoying the views before returning to street level. We wandered to and through Grand Central Station, admired the Crystlar building, drank coffee and generally whiled away the morning and early afternoon before heading back to Time Square. Josie wanted to see the Mary Poppins musical (thankfully not requiring company) and so we parted company for a few hours!

Heading into Brooklyn, I left the subway and walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan.  The pedestrian walkway appeared popular with locals and tourists alike and provided unobstructed views of both the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Once back in Manhattan I headed to ground zero to see all the new construction taking place and then onto the financial district, taking in Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, before taking the subway to Canal Street and the start of Chinatown.

I have visited a few Chinatowns and find that the  mix of sights, sounds and smells always makes the visit a unique experience within any city. At the same time I always find the visits a little intimidating as the cultural differences always seem a little most extreme.  We had initially booked a tour of Chinatown which I had hoped would overcome this and make the experience all the more rewarding, sadly it had been cancelled, so here I was on me lonesome !  I wandered the streets enjoying the hussle and bussle of the street vendors, trying to identify the exotic fruits and vegetables in the markets, as well feeling sorry for the vast array of critters in the fish markets. Taking a side street at randon I found myself in a small park which was at a complete contrast to its hectic surroundings. There was an open square with a number of benches all full of Chinese men and women playing either cards or xiangqi (chinese chess - which we first saw when we were in Hanoi). There were people meditating, some exercising as well as a couple of guys playing erhu's (known in the Western world as the chinese violin or 2 stringed fiddle).  The whole park had a real community feel about it and was great to see. 

Having met up back at the hotel we had an early meal at Bareburgers (www.bareburger.com) who for want of a better description provide healthy junk food.  Everything they serve is organic, with their range of burgers including the more exotic emu, bison, wild boar and elk.  Josie had a bison burger whilst I had the jalapeño elk burger which was so tasty that I'm dribbling even as I remember it :)

Heading to Time Square we found New World Stages where we were going to see 'Avenue Q', which is a musical where puppets appear alongside the actors (a sort of adult sesame street). The cast consists of 3 human characters and 11 puppet characters which interact as if human, thus requiring a little more suspension of belief than normal.  There is full puppet nudity (and puppet sex) as well as songs covering racism, pornography and homosexuality. It is hilarious.  After the show we hit Time Square to be mesmerized by all the lights before heading back to the hotel.

The final full day saw us struggling to get out of bed still weary from all the walking from the previous days.  Catching the tube to Central Park we soon decided that another day of walking was not on the cards and so chose to hire push bikes instead.  We spent a relaxing 3 hours cycling around the park, enjoying the open space and scenery.  After a hotdog (or 2) we headed downtown for some shopping therapy before meeting up with some island friends (who spend 6 months in TCI & 6 months in New Jersey) at their favourite Italian retaurant. Good food and company rounded off our trip to NY perfectly.

Getting up at stupid O'clock we caught the flight back to TCI.

Loved NY, its such a vibrant and diverse city.  It felt like we barely scratched the surface ... another 'must return' destination.

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