Thursday, 22 August 2019

NYC Part Two

Oh, hello there! Sorry for the long delay - I was going to publish this post days ago, but the last week at home was packed fuller than I thought it would be and the days kept slipping by. Thank you for your lovely comments on my last post, it is nice to know you enjoy being dragged along on these holiday posts with me.

So, where were we? Friday, day three of our week in that glorious, hustly-bustly city, began spectacularly well with a fancy breakfast out at Pershing Square. Freshly squeezed orange juice came in wine glasses, the freshly brewed coffee was topped up as if by magic, and the food...worth every dollar, and it added up to quite a few of them. Getting wise to the bonkers portion sizes, I ordered myself a fruit bowl while Bella chose chocolate chip pancakes, Angus French toast, and John waffles. I doled out a portion of fruit to each member of the family and relieved them each of one pancake, one piece of French toast and some waffle. I think I had the best breakfast, to be honest. Hands down the best waffle I have ever eaten - light inside, crispy on the outside, and I love how they bring a jug of maple syrup to the table so that you can decide yourself how much you want. 

But yes, the best breakfast out ever. We then made our way downtown to the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, a place we'd been recommended countless times and were keen to experience. Situated in the Garment District, it's less a museum than a collection of tenement buildings (a bit like a big old Victorian terrace as far as I could tell) owned by the museum, and you book onto a tour and are shown around by a guide in small groups. The buildings were abandoned in the thirties or forties and then discovered recently, when the museum acquired and restored them, creating examples of how immigrants would have lived in New York at various points during history. Photography is not allowed but it was excellent and well worth a visit. 

Lunch was pizza, sold by the slice and we shared two between four of us. Still a bit full after that breakfast, you understand.

We pottered around pleasantly for a few hours, popping into the odd shop, wandering up and down streets, and making sure we stopped at Flour Shop at Bella's request. Have a look at their website to see how bonkers their cakes are and why Bella so badly wanted to visit. We bought cake pops, it was all we could afford. They were very nice though. 

Then it was my turn to drag everyone to an ice cream shop - Milk & Cream Bar, where the ice cream is blended with the cereal of your choice and then topped with all manner of delicious things. You know how the milk tasted when you were little after you'd finished your bowl of cereal, and you'd drink it with the spoon so that you didn't waste any? It's like that but in ice cream form.

Further downtown we went, full of ice cream and pizza, and aiming for the Financial District.

We were heading for the 9/11 Memorial, somewhere Angus had asked to see and a place John and I wanted to visit, as when we last visited New York in 2005, the twin towers were a large patch of ground with fencing around them.

The memorial fountain is beautifully done; quiet and peaceful, despite the number of visitors, and it forces you to look down, away from the sky and tall buildings, and lose yourself in some quiet contemplation as you read the names of the victims inscribed into the edge of the waterfall.

After popping back to the hotel for showers (me buying a cup of tea on my way, as I did at that time every day) we got the tube out to Citi Field in Queens to see the New York Mets play.

One thing John had wanted to do so much, for years and years, was go to a baseball game, and he'd booked tickets before we went. (You can get tickets for $16!) I just went along for the ride - I had dragged him to a Broadway show, after all - but it surpassed all my expectations and was one of the best things we did that week. The atmosphere was incredible, friendly and relaxed, and it was much more family-friendly than any football game I've ever been to here. We bought beer and hotdogs and just enjoyed ourselves. The subway ride back to the hotel, in a carriage mostly full of people who'd been at the game, was the icing on the cake, with everyone chatting and laughing. Talking to strangers, on public transport? 

We weren't feeling quite so energetic on Saturday morning, and it was about 11 am by the time we got up, had breakfast and made our way back downtown again, to the prettiest subway station, to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was busy. We should have got there earlier in the day.

But the sun shone, the breeze blew and we walked the mile or so slowly, stopping to admire the architecture and view on the way.

We spent the next few hours exploring the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, just under the bridge, once I'd bought an iced coffee and the kids had bought shakes from Shake Shack.

We browsed shops and bought souvenirs, while the kids spent some of their pocket money.

 Then to Prospect Park, where we bought burgers from a nearby Wendy's and ate them in the park.

I absolutely loved Prospect Park. It feels wilder and more rambling than the parks in Manhattan, and has a faded grandeur feel to it.

It was a park I could have spent a lot longer in.

I think it was all starting to catch up with them by this point.

For some reason that I will never understand we went back to Times Square on Saturday night, along with the rest of the world, but we bought takeaway pizza by the slice (again) for dinner and it was cheap and delicious and everyone was happy.

Sunday, our last day, and so much we still hadn't done. We decided to go uptown to visit The Guggenheim. It's worth going for the stunning architecture alone, and I wish I could go back again now and look at it all again because there was so much to see and I didn't have the energy to really drink it all in.

I felt a little under the weather Sunday afternoon so I went back to the hotel and had a lovely long nap while John and the kids went back out. As far as I can tell, they continued their quest to visit every sportswear outlet in the city, along with Barnes and Noble too.

We found a great place to eat while we were there called Urbanspace, which is like a food hall of great, independent food stands. A few times we called in there and on our last night, Angus ordered fried chicken with mac and cheese, John ordered a Baja bowl, and Bella ordered Ramen. I had some of everyone else's. Like I said, the portion sizes.... After that is was packing and an early night, then on Monday morning the alarm went off much too early.

We were driving over the Queensboro bridge at 6.15 am and in the airport by 7.00 am.

And then the journey home. I think it took us longer to get off the plane, out of the airport and to our car at the Heathrow long stay car park than it did to actually drive home, but at midnight we were putting our key in the door and it was good to be home.

There is so much we didn't have time to do. We didn't get to take the kids to the Statue of Liberty or the Ellis Island museum (although John and I have both been there before), we didn't make it to Coney Island, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Roosevelt Island, The Color Factory, Magnolia Bakery, and so many other places, but it doesn't matter because we crammed in as much as we possibly could, made some of the best memories, and I don't regret a thing.


While we were away, quite a few people via Instagram asked for tips on our trip. Now while we're not exactly seasoned travellers, these are some of the things that we discovered or that worked for us:

  • Buy a weekly (or three day) subway ticket. It is incredibly good value and as easy to use as the London Underground.
  • Accept that eating out is expensive, get over it and enjoy your holiday. Portions are huge so share when you can, embrace the wonderful thing that is the NYC 99¢ pizza slice, and balance breakfasts at Starbucks with breakfasts in diners.
  • Accept that small people (even ten and twelve year olds) need regular refuelling and use it as an opportunity to try as many ice creams/shakes/doughnuts as possible.
  • If you plan to go up the Empire State building, then get there at 8.00 am when it opens. No queues!
  • Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge early or late in the day. It gets very, very busy.
  • Book tours in advance if you plan to visit the Tenement Museum. We didn't know this and were very lucky to get four places on a tour that morning. 
  • Book tickets for things like sports games and shows in advance before your holiday. However, if you do want to get cheap Broadway tickets while you're there, go to the TKTS booth in Times Square on the day of the show for heavily discounted tickets. 

Friday, 16 August 2019

NYC Part One

Hello there! We have been on holiday, a very special holiday, to New York City and have had the most incredible, wonderful, exhausting time. We returned late Monday night and the last few days have been a blur of jet lag and washing. But normal life must resume at some point and I have many - many! - photos to share with you all, and the energy finally to sort through them all, so here we are. It's been lovely going through all our pictures, reliving those days, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you here

We flew out from Heathrow a week last Monday. We'd been worried about the possible industrial action affecting our flights but luckily things were fine.

This trip would be the first time Bella and Angus had flown, and the first time John and I had flown since going to Copenhagen in 2013. They enjoyed the whole experience, as did I mostly, especially now that crochet hooks are permitted in hand luggage. We landed around 5.00 pm local time and experienced a hair-raising taxi journey to the hotel with minimal attention paid to road signs or other road users, which seemed to be the norm. Our hotel was in the Midtown area of Manhattan, not the buzziest of places, but we chose it for it's central location and proximity to the subway at Grand Central Terminal, and for both those things it was perfect. We all shared one room, John and I in one bed and the kids in the other, and this was the view from the window.

We spent an hour or two wandering around, getting our bearings and something to eat, before falling into bed.

On Tuesday, thanks to the jet lag and 9.00 pm bedtime the night before, we were all awake by 6.00 am and sitting in a coffee shop in Grand Central Terminal by 7.30 am, watching the commuters rush by. We bought coffee, pastries and a map, and made a plan.

We spent a little time in the terminal, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the space. It's an incredible building, and I especially love the ceiling.

We all wanted to walk after so much sitting the day before, so we made our way up Fifth avenue, which was lovely and quiet as the shops weren't open yet, towards Central Park.

It was warm and humid, but not unbearably so, and the kids loved spending some time in the park, running around and climbing the rocks, just letting off a bit of steam.

Our destination for the morning was The American Museum of Natural History which we all enjoyed, but no-one more than Angus, who read every single piece of information by every single exhibit we passed, and had to be dragged away.

"Mum! Take a photo of me by the badger!"

We walked over to Zabars on the Upper West Side for lunch. This store-deli had been recommended to me and I'm so glad we visited as it's a treasure trove of food. I stopped myself buying all the expensive oils and spices and just limited myself to a tea towel and shopping bag, very practical.

We'd hoped to picnic in Central Park but the heavens opened and so we ate our knishes and spanakopita (both unbelievably delicious) as we walked back down towards mid-town, calling into shops and stopping for snacks on the way. Angus spent some of his holiday spending money on this Mets hat, which did not leave his head for the rest of the week.

We were all pretty shattered by the end of the day so found somewhere near the hotel to get pizza and were all asleep early again.

Wednesday begun with breakfast in the Comfort Diner, a really old school type diner. Between us we ordered every pancake/waffle/French toast offering on the menu. I love breakfast in America. 

We took the subway over to the Intrepid Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier which is now a museum, and a very good one. It wasn't my first choice of things to do in New York but I went along with it and surprised myself.

Times Square was our next destination, and we walked there, through the hot, humid air, along 42nd Street.

I swear the heat increased in Times Square - it was just awful. I do not understand why people like that place, it's so busy and loud and full of adverts and crowds....I just wanted to leave as soon as I got there. 

The kids loved it - it does have a certain energy about it I suppose - but I was much happier escaping the downpours in Macy's later that afternoon. We ate ramen as an early dinner then walked through the rain to the Gershwin Theatre, as we'd booked tickets to see Wicked before we left.

We were up in the cheap seats (although they were not cheap!) but it was still amazing. Bella, Angus and I really enjoyed it. John fell asleep. My favourite part of this day, however, was the walk home from the theatre: the air was cool, the rain had stopped and there was a completely different feel to the city as we slowly made our way back to the hotel. 

Times Square now felt friendly and relaxed, and the neon lights reflected so prettily on the wet roads.

Thursday. Ah, this was my favourite day by a mile. We crammed in so much and I saw so many places that I'd always wanted to visit.

We were up bright and early so that we could be at the Empire State Building for 8.00 am when it opened to avoid the inevitable crowds, and I'm so glad we made the effort. The light was incredible up there - heavy cloud to begin with, and very hazy, but with bright sunshine breaking through and blue sky appearing during the hour or so we spent up on the observation deck.

This was not John or my first visit to the Empire State building, but I always find those views breathtaking, and it was wonderful to share it with Bella and Angus

We stopped in a bakery for a late breakfast of coffee and cinnamon buns before walking across town to the High Line, taking in the iconic Flat Iron building on the way.

As soon as we'd booked the flights to New York, the one of the places I most wanted to experience was The High Line, an old elevated railway line which has been repurposed into miles of public garden and walkways. 

It's a pretty magical place. You're only one or two floors up from street level but the atmosphere is completely different away from the traffic noise, quiet and relaxed. At times, the view is completely hidden by high plants so you could be anywhere, surrounded by birdsong and butterflies fluttering, but here and there a break in the planting reminds you where you are.

Bella and Angus really loved it and I could see them visibly relax in the space. Although not large, it gave them space to roam freely away from us but not too far away, still within safety.

We loved this stepped seating area and wondered what everyone was looking at.

Just a busy junction and street corner, but raised up and behind plexiglass it was so relaxing to sit there in the shade and watch New York coming and going. It looked like a pretty good spot to eat your packed lunch too.

We ate lunch in Chelsea Market (sourdough bagels for the kids and a shared turkey sandwich for John and I) before spending the afternoon walking through Greenwich Village to Soho, stopping off in shops (air conditioning!) and for ice cream or drinks along the way.  We were walking around 20,000 steps a day and needed to keep our strength up and make sure the kids were not too hot or tired. We gave Bella and Angus a lot of input into this holiday (after all, it's a once in a lifetime kind of thing) and they watched a lot of travel videos on YouTube. Angus was mainly interested in two things, pizza and ice cream, and had particularly requested we visit Do, which just does Cookie Dough ice cream. His little face!

As we approached Soho, I had somewhere I particularly wanted to visit....can you guess? Here's a clue:

That's right, the mighty Purl Soho! I couldn't come all this way and not pop in, it would be rude! I kept my spending in here to a minimum, tempting though it all was, but loved browsing and the staff were really friendly.

After going back to the hotel for a couple of hours to rest, we came back down to this area again in the evening, to eat dinner in Little Italy.

The restaurant was small and cosy, the food was really good, I had a glass of wine - it was all utterly lovely. While we were in there, the wind picked up and it started to rain. A few people sitting outside under the umbrellas came in. Then it started to really rain, and before we knew it there was a full on storm directly overhead with thunder and lightening. Then, twenty minutes later, it was all over, just like that, and we walked back to the subway with the lights shining on the wet pavements again.

I'll stop there and give you the next three days soon. I don't want to bore you. I hope you're enjoying my travel tales - there's a lot more still to come. I haven't even shown you my souvenirs yet!