Stop 6: NYC
Day 1 - Friday
After a not-so-pleasant greyhound ride - during which our dictatorial bus driver demanded absolute silence, no use of mobile phones and all lights turned off despite the early hour of 7pm - we were relieved to arrive in NYC. We were collected from the bus depot (glamour) by Helen's friend Andres who kindly chauffeured us to our home for the next eight nights. Having fantasised about the luxury of unpacking and having a homely haven as a base for over a week, we were a little unnerved when Andres pulled up outside our new abode. We checked and double-checked the address, but yes, it really did appear that our new flat was above a shabby-looking psychic's and a noisy gay bar called Posh - 'posh' this was not. The soldiers that we are, we waved off Andres and dragged our ever-expanding suitcases up the steps to the door of our new home, unaware of the awaiting horrors..... Upon entering the building we couldn't ignore the pungent smell of old Chinese wafting along the hallway. After navigating our suitcases around broken furniture and discarded takeaway, we arrived in hell on earth. Imagine the worst student house you've ever frequented, and multiply the grime, smell and poverty by a hundred and you'll be somewhere near.
Advertised as: "Two bed in prime NYC location with lots of natural light"
Reality: "Bleak, soulless, grotty cell. Smells of sweaty man. Auschwitz has more charm".
We had two choices..... Spend our first evening in NYC disinfecting an entire apartment or.... ignore reality for one evening and head out with Andres for a night of hard liquor and dancing. Naturally, we chose the latter! We met Andres at the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District for cocktails in the rooftop bar, before heading to VIP Rooms for too much vodka, and Marquee for some pretty special dancing. Mission 'Forget Poverty Pad for the evening' : a resounding success.
Day 2 - Saturday
Dismayed to wake up the following morning to find that the Pov Pad hadn't just been one big bad nightmare. Coupled with horrendous hangovers, Pov Pad Take 2 was grimmer than the night before.... We battled our inability to achieve verticality for a couple of hours before dragging our sorry selves into Hell's Kitchen (how apt) for a hangover-curing feast. Post feed and feeling a little more human, we headed to the Financial District to soak up the Spring sunshine and beautiful views from the rooftop of Andres' apartment building. We then treated ourselves to a 'date night' at a cinema near Times Square where we found the American cinema experience hilarious - laughing at inappropriate/non-funny moments in the film and applauding more dramatic moments. We decided in our weak and delirious states that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em so we cackled and clapped our way through the rest of the film then took ourselves home for much-needed sleep.
Day 3 - Sunday
A much more productive day of sightseeing! Took in Times Square, Broadway, spotted the Naked Cowboy playing his guitar, walked through Grand Central Station, Empire State Building and the New York Public Library. Nat went for a run round Central Park while Helen tackled the Pov Pad armed with rubber gloves and bleach.
Spent an exciting evening having our first laundromat experience, in order to wash the unclean bedding and towels. Helen battled with the unfriendly laundromat staff who tried to refuse us entry due to the late hour, by threatening suicide if she had to sleep in dirty sheets one more night. Not wanting Helen's death on her conscience, the woman relented. While we waited for our washing, Helen made her first NYC friend - a kindly old Amish gentleman who ran our soon-to-be favourite grocery store. Their love was sealed when he gave her a free chocolate bar and an orange - which Nat naturally made her share.
Day 4 - Monday
Headed to the 9/11 Memorial site but before seeing this, we visited St Paul's Church which is situated right next to where the Twin Towers stood but was miraculously untouched when the Towers collapsed. Inside were altars with hundreds of pictures and dedications to the victims of the attacks - these started out as 'missing person' noticeboards but as time went by became memorials to those lost. This made seeing the official memorial even more poignant, having read the words from so many families and friends who lost loved ones. The memorial itself was beautiful but very hard-hitting, with twin reflecting pools nearly an acre in size and featuring the largest man made waterfalls in America, and sit in the footprint of where the Towers once stood. The names of every person who died in the attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the memorial pools, and were haunting to see.
We then walked along Wall Street and viewed the New York Stock Exchange Building before heading to catch the Staten Island Ferry - arming ourselves with gigantic pizza slices for the lengthy 25 minute journey. The ferry ride gave us spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty atop Liberty Island.
Day 5 - Tuesday
We caught the subway to Brooklyn and explored the waterfront before walking the Brooklyn Bridge back towards Manhattan - one of our favourite New York experiences. We then went for a pre-theatre dinner at a tiny, unassuming Lebanese restaurant which served up an absolute feast, before heading to see the Broadway show 'Once' - about a struggling Dublin musician who's about to give up on his dream when a young Czech girl takes a sudden interest in his songs and inspires him to follow his musical dreams. Disappointed to find that the theatre audience wasn't as animated as the cinema audience with no whooping or cheering - a much more civilised crowd.
Day 6 - Wednesday
Met Andres for lunch at Vapianos - fresh pasta dishes made in front of you - our bellies greatly enjoyed. We walked off our pasta bellies around Union Square, mainly so that Helen could sit by the dog pen and eye up any dogs straying far enough away from their owners for her to be able to dognap. The -2C degree temperatures drove Helen to panic-buy some less-than-chic knitwear (please refer to Phonejacker photos and try not to judge too harshly - she was cold and desperate!) Despite freezing weather, stomped around East Village, NoHo, SoHo, NoLita, Little Italy, TriBeCa and China Town. Helen made a yoga class at a place aptly named 'Bent' within the Gay District while Nat went for a long run around Central Park.
Day 7 - Thursday
Visited Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty up close. Went up to the Pedestal to take in stunning views across the estuary and to Manhattan, and toured the museum underneath, viewing the original Torch. Queued for what felt like three hours (it was probably no more than 30 minutes) on the dock for the return ferry - not so much fun. In her frozen delirious state, Nat likened the conditions to those aboard the sinking Titanic waiting for the lifeboats.... Cue disapproving glances from those stood near us... Once back on dry land, we meandered through Central Park visiting John Lennon's Strawberry Fields before heading to very popular ramen eatery Toto in Hell's Kitchen for dinner.
Day 8 - Friday
Chose to spend our last day in NYC being cultured, and so visited the Guggenheim Museum. Conclusion after our three-hour visit: art is a little lost on us... We'll stick to food being our thing. Walked through Central Park again with Helen's friend Kelvin who was visiting from London, before heading to the Upper East Side for a lunchtime Mexican feast and cocktails. Discovered a bakery on the walk home and MAY have found the room for a little dessert... Headed home for a grannie nap and a change of clothes before heading out for cocktails to mark the end of our NYC adventures. En route to local wine bar Ardesia, we enjoyed a gospel choir giving what appeared to be an impromptu performance on the steps of their church. Fuelled by a bottle of prosecco, we decided it was a FINE idea not to head home and pack/get an early night ready for our onward travels the following day, instead choosing to stay out to enjoy Cosmopolitans before Helen was reunited with her old frenemy Patron tequila. Nat finally ducked out pleading a headache leaving Helen and Kelvin to darken the doorway of THAT gay bar Posh until 4.30am (merrily forgetting our 8am start and 5 hour Greyhound ride to Boston just a few short hours later....) FUN TIMES!
Day 9 - Saturday
Only one word can accurately describe our morning - CARNAGE. Trying to pack with a still-drunk Helen was decidedly tricky, trying to convince that very same Helen to board a packed and hot Greyhound bus for 5 hours - trickier so! The usually healthy-eating Helen was replaced by a fast food junkie who actually fist pumped the air and inappropriately whooped when our overweight bus driver announced an impromptu stop at a backwater Burger King. What a way to arrive into Boston....