Sunday, April 26, 2015

New York New York

To celebrate being married for 15 years and for both of us turning 40 this year, Wifey and I took a trip to New York.

We packed the kids off to stay with my parents and we had some 'us' time. Four days altogether, which is the longest we'd been away from the boys.

The lead up to the trip was a bit fraught. Would the kids be OK? What would happen if our plane crashed? What do we do when we arrive? What if the snow in America (it was in a middle of a big freeze at the time) wrecks our flying plans? Erk!

Well, the flights were fine and we got to and from our hotel easily enough. In fact, we had a jolly old time in NYC and it was truly the trip of a lifetime (albeit too short for such an amazing destination).

New York is, as I'm sure most people will tell you, amazing. It it big and loud and noisy and scary and wonderous and baffling all at the same time. Not only that but it's one of the most well-known movie locations ever (more on that later).

At the time of our visit, the North Western part of the US was experiencing extremely cold weather - colder than what they were used to. Walking out of JFK we were hit with a blast of frozen air, which was to become a common experience for our entire trip.

Staying near Times Square
Our hotel, The Muse, was in a great location situated just off Time Square. Some people have described TS as 'hell on earth', probably because it is some kind of consumerist centre of gravity for capitalism. Ginormo-screens glare down at your from every direction filling the place with their LED-glow, advertising world-famous brands promoted by faultless pouting models imploring you to buy whatever it is they are hawking in a never-ending loop. It has its own beauty. I didn't really notice the products or bands being sold, as such, just the staggering amount of LEDs shining at me in all directions.

A glimpse of Times Square

[Funnily enough, Cardiff has its own Ginormo-screen. Just the one. It's on Queen Street and reminded me of Times Square, but only a very tiny bit because it is one small screen compared to the seemingly hundreds plastered about 5th Avenue.]

The hotel itself was OK - nothing amazing. I don't think we'd rush back there anytime soon. The central heating didn't cope very well with the icy temperatures so our room could have been warmer. We also had problems with the plumbing too. A cold shower for two days running was not much fun. Saying that, the staff were friendly and helpful and when we complained about our problems they were quickly sorted and we even had a free breakfast because of our trouble.

The List
Together, we'd compiled a list of things we'd like to do in the big apple and managed to do most of it in the time given:
  • Statue of Liberty - lady liberty was pretty breathtaking. Beyond iconic, we couldn't visit NYC without going to see the old gal. It was a bit surreal seeing something we were so familiar with, thanks to movies and TV, in reality. To be honest, I spent more time taking pictures of the thing than actually looking at it which I'm really annoyed with myself about.
  • Central Park - well, we spent about fifteen minutes actually inside the park. It was a blanket of snow and pretty deserted. I am proud to say I used the central park toilets. That was about it.
  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) - we felt like we should at least enjoy some culture while in the greatest city on earth, so did some wandering around looking at paintings and stuff. We saw Van Goch's Starry Night which was pretty cool as well as some Jackson Pollocks and Andy Warhols.
  • Broadway (Jersey Boys) - we couldn't visit New York without seeing a show, and opted to see Jersey Boys. It was the best I'd ever seen in terms of performance, humor and music. The thing about Broadway is that you get to see the cream of the crop in terms of talent and we weren't disappointed.
  • New York City skyline (Top of the Rock) - another iconic view is that of the New York skyline and it was a beautiful clear day when we visited the Rockefeller Center. It was breathtaking to see the city's sprawl of skyscrapers including the famous Empire State building and the great expanse of Central Park.
The Rockefeller Centre
Getting around
We did a fair amount of walking on foot - just to wander around with these great skyscrapers all around us was a spectacle in itself - but for longer distances the only other option was the subway.

Again, another iconic aspect of NYC, it was not much different to taking the London Underground. The map took a little getting used to, and once we'd figured out the difference to Uptown and Downtown we were sorted. We managed to avoid the experience of rush hour and didn't see too many crazies (as one would assume from watching the movies).

We also took a total of three cab rides - two for travelling between the airport and hotel, one for getting from a restaurant back to our hotel. Our trip back to JFK was nice and pleasant and the cabbie was an older gent who was very friendly.

Movie Locations
Being a movie buff, I was naturally excited about visiting one of the most filmed cities in the world. Of course, New York itself is a movie location and everywhere we went there was a familiar view, but we didn't go out of our way particularly to visit locations simply because we were pressed for time. The Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Central Park were places to tick off that had had their more than fair share of screen time. One particular location took us (well, me) by surprise and that was the New York Public Library. We just turned a corner, and there it was! It's been in quite a few movies, but I remember it mostly from the opening scene from Ghostbusters, one of my favourite childhood films. Sad, I know, but it was quite a moment...

It's those lion statues ...

New Yorkers
New Yorkers are world-famous for being rude and short-tempered, but like most generalisations it's not true for everybody. Some of the locals we interacted with were friendly and welcoming (the cabbie and hotel staff, for example), but others fitted the stereotype better. We asked some cops directions and they looked at us like we were from another planet. The security staff at the tourist places were miserable as sin (not surprising given the soul-destroying job they had to do), and there were street hawkers all over the place. We were jumped on numerous times by these people trying to get us to ride a sightseeing bus, buy theatre tickets, buy CDs (bit random that one) and other touristy things. It was tolerable, but a bit annoying.

15 years and still going stong!
We certainly ate our fair share of Americana including New York staples (hot dogs, pretzels, pizza). We ate out a couple of times at an amazing diner called Juniors for breakfast. Having sampled pancakes, coffee and other yummy delights we were set up for the day (albeit feeling very stuffed). On one of the evenings we went to Hell's Kitchen for a fancy meal and ate at a restaurant with the same name and the food was incredible. One big disappointment was that we couldn't find any decent supermarkets anywhere. I was really looking forward to stocking up on various US treats not normally available at home (S'mores, Twinkies etc.), and there was nowhere to get anything. Sure, there were corner shops and the like but their range was limited. We did manage to get a few items from a giant candy section in the FAO Schwarz toy store (movie location for the film 'Big' no less) but even there I couldn't find everything we wanted. Not that I can complain, really - we got quite a lot!

Our haul of goodies

We packed a load into our trip considering we were only there a short time. It would have been great to have a week or two but we really couldn't leave the kids much longer, and New York is expensive - not just the touristy stuff, but the basics like food and travel as well. It's only because of the kind generosity of Wifey's dad that we could afford to go.

I've always said that I love America and the fact that my brother and his family live there is a good excuse to go back sometime. With New York, however, it feels like we barely scratched the surface.

Which is a good thing, because that gives us a good excuse to go back, and maybe next time ... we'll bring the kids.

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