Saturday, 13 October 2012

We visit New York!

We went with friends, stayed at a hotel on Virgin’s list, and found Manhatten easy to negotiate.  Here are our thoughts on the things we managed in case you too get the chance to go.  We found the people we met charming and polite (not only those who were staff in restaurants and in tourist areas either), and many times people just stopped and asked us if we were OK or if we needed directions..... once, a  guy sitting next to us in a square on a hot day when we were tired, not only asked , but used his iphone to look up the time of the next subway train, and what station we could get it from,  in order to get to a shop we thought we might visit!

Top of the Rock and the Rockerfeller Centre) – 70 floors up and a big viewing space giving views all round.  Particularly good for a view of Central Park, but if you have a pair of binoculars too you are going to have a great time up here!  The entire centre well-maintained, lovely art deco panels all over the place if only you look up.  The place where they have ice-skating all winter was just being prepared for that (starts October).  Somewhere on the ground (first if you are American) floor at the east end of the block is a silver, hand-made plane, made by Cartier and given as a gift from France following Charles Linberg’s flight.

Ellis Island – got tickets in advance on internet – good job as we took 5 minutes in the queue and 15 going through security.  Any other ticket you just joined the queue, and when we arrived at 11.00 am the queue was around 2 hours.  The ferry takes you out to Liberty Island so you get a good view of Statue of Liberty, but for us it was not worth getting off for – Ellis Island, however is a must-do – although give yourself several hours.  Great audio tour and extra sound bites in the   smaller rooms (voices of Ellis Island emigrees interviewed many years later were fascinating).


Chrysler Building – Just Wow!  You can only do the foyer as it is a fully occupied working building (go on a working day), but you only need to see this bit.  Covered in marble unlike any I have ever seen, and art deco signage, light fittings and a painted ceiling.  Their own postboxes;  oh, and of course the lift lobbies – if you like art deco – this is a must.

Grand Central Station – If you have never seen “The Fisher King” with Robin Williams playing straight, and Jeff Bridges – try and hire it now.  We went at teatime (around 5.00pm) and the celestial lights in the ceiling were on (constellations with the main stars lit show up on a blue ceiling)  The clock is beautiful, as is every single track door – and they are designed in several different groups.  Food court in the basement,  great food market mall, plus other shops.  In the Fisher King there is a great scene of commuters dancing, and we only just found out that on New Year’s Eve that actually happens – you can go there for the dance!
Maceys – old fashioned and large department store but not impressed.  However, Bloomingdales did impress us.   Still in its art deco jacket of black, white and aluminium, the doormen have proper uniforms of black with silver braid and caps, and if you are lucky enough to be there as they open the doors at 10.00 am you are greeted with “Good morning, and welcome to Bloomindales”  and  you walk through and up 10 or so steps to the shop floor to Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.  Ladies rest rooms have been redone but still retain a line of original black and white tiles, and the lifts are all lined in black glass (although probable original doors of aluminium have been replaced by stainless steel – no matter).  Finest  (and probably biggest) iced yoghurt in NY on the seventh floor in a health food bar called Forty Carrots!  And Bergdorf Goodman? 
 I don’t think they let just anyone in there.  No prices in any of the windows, so I guess it’s a “if you need to ask you can’t afford it” kind of place!  Also Henri Bendell has several  real Rene Lalique glass windows on some of the floors.  Mr Mac says it is a must, although I was in a bookshop at the time.

Brooklyn Flea Markets in two different places on Saturdays and Sundays.  This is a “must do again” kind of place.  We went to Lafayette on Saturday.  Glorious sunshine, and just a market to watch people, eat good fresh food and drink handmade sodas – I had Lime and Shiso – which was so good I want to import it here! New and old clothing, All sorts of food, Secondhand furniture of all kinds – just a great morning.   Just outside the gate is a large Masonic Temple (Freemasons), lovely building.  Bought myself a canvas tote bag at $10, which has, appropriately, “FLEA BAG” printed on it.  Lafayette has a beautiful bookshop, which I promised to go back and mooch, but just no time.
USS Intrepid Museum – the aircraft carrier is the museum.  This was one for the guys, but if you like history and if you have children, loads of stuff to look at and listen to.  You can get to lie down inside an early space capsule, you can go in a G-force simulator.  The best for me was a film show for child groups, but good for anyone, which simulated a kamikaze attack during a battle in the Philippines in WW2.  Off the ship, over near Concorde, which you can walk right up to, there is a piece of dirty metal set up as a memorial.  It’s a piece from one of the World Trade Towers after 9/11, and marks the fact that the FBI set up office inside the Intrepid immediately after the attack, as their office was in one of the towers and of course had been destroyed.

The High Line Park – my most looked forward to, which did not disappoint.  Old rail track above the roads (remember that car chase with Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection?) which had fallen into disuse and was going to be removed.  Fortunately, a group of worthies campaigned for its retention and it just is a most fabulous thing.  It runs through buildings, it passes expensive apartment buildings and poor housing.  Every block there is a view of the River to one side and the city to the other.  The plantings vary as you walk.  Some areas of prairie grasses and flowers, some summer perennials, some areas where there are seats in the shade of climbers and creepers, some woodland areas where the trees are already 10-15 feet tall.  Loads of city sparrows,  plenty of places to sit a while, everyone loving it.  Several covered areas (where it goes through buildings) to stop for a coffee.  A truly magic place to be, even for the male of the species – Mr Mac loved it.
A find!  Bryant Square, renovated in the 1990s from a place frequented only by bums and addicts but now an open space for everyone, plenty of seats and an area for another public skating rink (it’s fountains in the summer) just getting ready for the winter.  And, the most fabulous public toilet I have ever been in.  Its own little building – and as you walk through the door, Men to the right, Ladies to the left, you are confronted by a 12 foot high mirror, in front of which is an arrangement of fresh flowers (about £100 worth), and several tiny fresh flowers arrangements in between each sink.   Automatic toilet seat covers.... press the green button and the polythene seat cover moves round for each new user. This is immediately behind the New York Public Library.
Guggenheim Museum – fabulous Frank Lloyd Wright building (one of his last) that lived up to my every expectation.  No stairs, you just wind your way up six floors on a gentle slope, looking over into the atrium at every step.  Toilets on every floor, contained in one cylindrical drum from the top of the building to the bottom, each floor containing two toilets.   At the time it was being planned,  (1953/4) residents of 5th Avenue apartments campaigned against it (it is odd and very modernistic, like a space ship has just arrived on a street corner) but  Mr  Guggenheim had plenty of money and lots of pictures to gift to the city......... so there it is!
Central Park.  BIG!  46 miles of roads and paths, undulating and weaving round trees and rocky outcrops.  Joggers, runners, walkers, cyclists, horse drawn carriages,  bicycle powered rickshaws.  In the Summer I guess it’s manic!  We went on a rainy day and still managed to see loads, including a black guy selling $5 umbrellas (good trade for him that day) and introducing himself as “Prince Charles”!
Bronze Bull at the bottom of Wall Street (walk up from Bowling Green subway entrance outside the North American Museum of Native American Indians)  When we got there, it was surrounded by a huge  party of South American teens, all of which wanted a picture of every single group member individually with the bull.....
Another find – Battery Park.  Right down at the bottom of Manhatten, and the place where the Statten Island Ferry leaves from and where you find the ferry for Ellis Island.  Updated and beautifully done, there is a war memorial of all those who died in the North Atlantic in WW2, it’s centre  is a huge bronze eagle.  Park is lovely, little areas of shingle with seating, couple of coffee kiosks with high calorie cookies (of course), and the find within the find, the Battery Park Urban Farm which works like a UK allotment.... and eight schools are involving in the growing process. 

Carnagie Hall.  Just up there on  57th Street, it is quite small, and another of NY’s treasures that they nearly lost.....  We had a look at the lovely little original foyer, but didn’t go to a concert, as there was nothing for us on the nights we were free.  But it has an excellent programme of all sorts of stuff.
We recommend highly the Penguin publication The New York Map Guide.  Easy to use and easy to see how to link up various places as lots of them are marked on the pages.  Very thin at 64 pages,  can be slipped into bag or pocket easily.  Also the Dorian Kindersley  New York Top 10, which divides things into 10s!
Things we had to miss (no more time) were – Metropolitan Opera House,;  Roosevelt Tram(actually a giant ski lift thing seating 40) over to Roosevelt Island which is just housing;  The Tenement Museum;   African Burial Ground memorial;  Main US Post Office;  and so much more, we really are going again!!