I'm glad I took the train to NYC. It was cheaper and far more relaxing than flying. Also New England is a nice area and the train passed through and stopped at lots of interesting places. The only tricky part was hoisting my backpack on to the storage racks above - managed it without assistance. Then getting it down again without killing anyone - again rocked it solo. Nailed it!
Research works. HI hostels send you a email a day before you arrive reminding you of the reservation and to give useful information like directions. The directions given were pitiful. Take the subway to the hostel. Cool. Which subway? What stop? Do I need to change trains? How do I get a metro card? All basic information that should be provided. Anyhow a five minutes on the Internet and I worked out my route from Penn Station where Amtrak was dropping me off. The train I needed left right from Penn Station, winner. Hopped off the train, followed the signs to the subway, got out the right change for a single ride, bought my ticket, got the subway (in the right direction), hopped off at the right stop and walked to the hostel all without getting lost or needing to ask for help or directions. Not too bad hey?
Staying on the Upper West Side, it made sense for my first stop to be Central Park. And the next few hours were spent wandering the extensive park, past the ice skating rink, through Strawberry Fields, the Ramble, the Mall, past the Carousel and by the zoo out on to 5th Avenue. Walking across the park is pretty quick, but walking the whole park north to south is no mean feat. It is really big!
After the Park, I headed down 5th Avenue marveling at all the shops, Barney's, Bendel's, Sak's, Tiffany's etc. Eventually I was pretty much too cold to function and hopped on the subway back to the hostel, making sure to buy an unlimited use Metro Card. I stopped at the supermarket to pick up some dinner supplies and was shocked at the NYC prices for simple groceries. A bowl of hot pasta later and I was a happy lady, made even happier once I had a hot shower and sunk into bed.
I started at Central Park again. I forgot to check the weather and was wearing a dress (with tights) and soon almost froze to death...because the temperature was below zero, like -5 below zero! I started in Strawberry Fields, wanting to hit the Imagine monument as it was overrun with obnoxious teenagers the day before. Early in the morning it was peaceful and student free, excellent. Then I strolled across the park to the Alice In Wonderland statue and after through the park, exiting on to 5th to wander down to Times Square. To be honest I wasn't all that impressed with Times Square. I don't get it.
On my way to the New York Public Library, I stumbled past Bryant Park, which is really cute. It's all set up with ping pong tables and pétanque fields (are they fields?) and it has a gorgeous old timey carousel. I immediately fell in love with this little slice of land and can imagine how wonderful it will be once the leaves start to bloom. And once I finished marveling at the park, it was on to the library. The very same library made very famous in Carrie Bradshaw's ill-fated wedding in the first Sex and the City movie. The building is big, grand and sort of imposing from the outside, but once inside the reading rooms, it is really lovely and welcoming, and a nice place to thaw out your very, very cold body. Which is necessary when it is still -1 at noon!
Next stop on yet another of my self guided tours was Grand Central Terminal. Now this place is impressive and I totally love it. The place is just opulence and grandeur and recalled me back to another classier era. I may also have been recalling the start of Gossip Girl in my head as I walked thorough the main atrium. By this stage I was pretty much starved and headed downstairs to the dining concourse. There I found delicious soup and even more delicious cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery! Another bucket list moment ticked off. I had the Grand Central flavour - it seemed apt, and it was good. Although I am going to be a little controversial here and say I think Georgetown Cupcake out cupcakes Magnolia Bakery.
After Grand Central I hiked the short few blocks over the the United Nations which frankly is a bloody ugly building. Surely a body which exists to support and facilitate international cooperation should have a nice building in which to conduct such talks. I don't feel the building is conductive to their mission statement at all. As you would know from pictures the flags of each member country line it's entrance on First Avenue. Feeling a touch patriotic I wanted to find the Australian flag. Being organised and all meant the flags are in alphabetical order of their country name, and thus Australia was right other end, naturally. Once I had seen my home flag, it was time to pass through yet another security checkpoint and go inside. The inside of the building is even more drab than the outside. I guess one could chalk it up to money being well spent on international efforts as opposed to aesthetics, which is obviously a good thing. I looked around enjoying the free exhibitions in the lobby, especially one about the challenges and efforts of children face to access education.
Last stop for the daytime segment was a short subway ride over to the Flatiron Building. One of my favourite images of NYC is a black and white photograph of the intersection where the Flatiron is situated and there was no way I was coming to NYC without visiting there. Cue me standing in the pedestrian zone between 5th Ave and Broadway marveling at the sight.
To finish off my day I cooked Laura (a dormmate) and I dinner before we headed out to see Times Square at night. And I get the Times Square thing now. It is still just as crazy, but at night all lit up, it does have this weird magical quality. We took the requisite touristy photos and then navigated our way to the Rockefeller Center, to hit the Top of the Rock. Quickly getting out tickets we had a 40 minute wait before we could enter and filled this time with donuts, watching the skaters on the famous ice rink and wandering around the underground concourse of the Rockefeller Center. At precisely 8.50pm we were allowed to enter and take the elevator up to the 67th floor in a mere 42 seconds. The observation decks were bloody cold but that did not deter Laura and I at all. Seeing the view of NYC all lit up at night was amazing, a totally special moment. And best of all we got a great view of the Empire State Building.
I started my day at the famed American Museum of Natural History. I didn't want to miss the museum, but not being a big nature person I didn't have anything in particular that interested me. So I opted to take a free 90 minute museum highlights tour. It was the right decision. I saw the best parts of the museum but also got a bit of backstory to the museum and some information about the exhibits. After my tour I wandered round to a few things I wanted to look at, finding myself done pretty quickly.
Prior to my trip I purchased a 7 day pass that gets me into all the main attractions and many more. One of the places I can visit on my pass is Madame Tussaud's, which is one of those places that kind of fascinates me but I wouldn't purposely set out to visit. However having access through my pass I decide to visit. The place is weird and a bit creepy really but it was fun. Some of the wax models are so life like, it's freaky and some really left a lot to be desired.
Following the wax, I went Downtown to the Financial District to see the New York Stock Exchange. Walking along Broadway in search of lunch mistakenly I stumbled upon the Charging Bull. While standing waiting to take a photo, I spot a Chipotle. Sold, my lunch issue is solved. Chipotle is sort of the US Salsa's and their burritos are really good.
Following lunch I walked to South Ferry to meet Laura so we could take the famed Staten Island Ferry. Famed because it's free and you can see the State of Liberty, a very compelling combination for tourists. Being a sort of miserable day we didn't get wonderful views. I'm sure the locals absolutely hate us tourists on the boat gawking at the statue and taking lots of pictures. You could easily tell the locals by their bored expressions.
After some walking along 5th & 6th Avenues, I met Laura at the hostel and we were off to Broadway. My very first Broadway show!! The show in question is Once and man is it good. It's shorter than an average Broadway show but in no way did the story feel rushed or unfinished. It's a really different musical, not showy and a lot more relaxed. The performance begins with audience allowed to walk on the stage and the cast slowly filtering on to the stage, playing three or four folk songs before the official start of the show. And it's different in the fact that there is very little dancing and the performers all act, sing and play an instrument. A new kind of triple threat. The end of the show left me really emotional and I came very close to crying, but managed to hold it together. And the best part of this experience? Laura just missed the rush tickets, the show selling out meaning they put their standing room only tickets of on sale. Sure we had to stand but the view was incredible and the ticket was crazy cheap. Broadway for only $27? Yes please!
St Patrick's Day. In true US fashion any reason to dress up and celebrate is taken. The hostel offered a group trip for anyone interested in attending the parade, which Laura, Anne (who I met in Cancún) and I went along. Wanting us to get a good spot along 5th, we arrived at the parade just before 10, a full hour before the parade started. You really notice the cold a lot more when you're standing still. Anne even ducked into the H&M behind us looking for warm clothes and warmth in general. Laura and I found a coffee shop and indulged in an Irish cream coffee given the festivities. Unfortunately the only redeeming part of my coffee was its temperature but even that wasn't enough to make me finish the thing. Eventually the parade got on its way and that helped distract us from the cold, for a while at least. Honestly the parade wasn't all that interesting. It was a lot of the same, people in kilts, bagpipes, people of service, rinse and repeat. Shortly after seeing some dancers and baton twirlers Anne, Laura and I left feeling we'd seen enough and couldn't hack the cold anymore. However there were some fireworks just before we left, the human kind. Two girls arrived about an hour into the parade and evidently their friends were right by the parade barriers. Rudely pushing past some actual Irish people they shoved their way to the front. Not really happy with their rudeness, the mum of the Irish group let that be known and tried to stop these girls coming through. Well, the crazy Puerto Rican one went off, shoving this woman hard, calling her all sorts of names including the c-bomb. Unlike Australia, the c-bomb isn't really in the vernacular here and people look scandalised when it's said. So these girls joined their friends thus achieving their objective yet the Puerto Rican girl still was aggressive, angry and talking the worst kind of sailor for at least another 10 minutes. That s*** cray! Anyhow Finding the nearest decent looking coffee shop, we swooped in and found a table. Cue hot chocolates or tea to warm our numb bodies and a slice of NY cheesecake shared between Anne and I. YUM!
Once we'd thawed out a little, Anne and I headed the subway downtown to the famed discount store Century 21. The place is incredible. Designer stuff everywhere for a fraction of the price. I guessing its got to be a couple of seasons old but I don't mind. Calvin Klein is still Calvin Klein no matter how old it is. Anne and I explored the three levels of women's clothing. My favourite part was the high fashion section where despite the discount I still couldn't afford the clothes. But I could drool over Lanvin, Vera Wang, Helmut Lang and Oscar de la Renta dresses just to name a few. In the end I got two much needed jackets and a dress I couldn't resist. One Kensie cropped double breasted trench sitting to hip level in classic oatmeal, beige and brown. One knee length Calvin Klein dress that is sort of a cheats wrap dress. And my favourite piece, a Michael Kors trench in a bright green. Anne found herself to be a real Calvin Klein girl when three out of four items she picked out to try on were CK and both items she ended up buying too. Back outside Anne was perfectly warm in the snow in her new CK coat as we headed over to the subway and back 'home'.
We were running late to meet the Pub Crawl crew so found out where they were headed and then told them to leave without us. This gave us time to deposit purchases into our rooms, bathroom stop and for a massive NYC pizza slice to line the stomach in anticipation of the nights activities, before catching the subway to Greenwich Village. We successfully navigated ourselves and two other guys from the hostel to the bar and promptly joined the hideous bathroom line. And then the best part of the night, my first cider since before I left. So happy! Oh cider how I missed you. By the time Anne and I secured said ciders, no one from the hostel was anywhere to be seen. Figuring they had moved onto the second bar, we enjoyed our ciders and the excellent top 40 music being played. I cut loose, dancing over the top to said songs. Eventually a boring song came on and we took it as our cue to leave, finding the second bar easily. Cue more cider and catching up with the rest of group. Still feeling like dancing, I managed to dance OTT from the confines of my seat and attract some bemused attention from those in our group and others around me. Do I care? Hell no. I'm doing what I want and having a great time. Can you say the same? The second bar is kinda boring so we head back to the first one. At this point I'm really hyped up, dancing in the street and talking in stupid voices much to the amusement of those with me. More cider is the first order obviously. And some whiskey shots so Laura, Sebastian and I drink a shot from our St Patty's day decorative necklace tankards. Not sure that's what they were designed for, but don't put a tankard on a necklace for the Irish and not expect people to actually drink from it. Anyhow I figure the alcohol will kill germs lurking inside it, after all I did buy it from some random lady on the street. Slowly people from the hostel start to leave until it's just Laura, Erin, Sebastian, an Indian guy whose name escapes me and I left. We leave in search of another bar and stumble past an empty batting cage. It's too inviting not to go in, so I lead the way running and dancing in and everyone follows. We spend a fair while in there just being dickheads, dancing, singing Empire State of Mind at the top of our lungs, taking photos and laughing. It's such a silly, happy moment. I can't really explain it but its one of my best NYC moments. We end up giving up on the search for a bar and subway it back to the UWS with plans to meet for breakfast the next day.
After meeting the St Patty's crew for breakfast where we indulge in standard fare US breakfast, bagels and pancakes, we split up in our seperate directions. I'm off for a non-stop day of artistic appreciation and culture.
First stop on the culture express is the Whitney Museum of American Art. I love this place. It's set out well. It's mostly my kind of art. The highlight of my visit is a couple of fantastic Georgia O'Keeffe pieces that I marvel at, doing that thing where you step closer, farther back, c*** your head. So basically I look like a dickhead.
After the Whitney I head across a few blocks to the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, or more simply, the Met. The Met is grand in appearance, size and it's extensive collection. The place is a overwhelming and I find it to be a bit of a rabbit warren. I take a moment to read the summaries of each exhibit and while important historically and in the development of art, I rule out almost all exhibit. I head to the photographs which is my favoured artistic medium, and while good, the collection on display is significantly smaller than most of their others. After this I wander round some of the more modern stuff and finish with the European paintings finding the Vermeer's closed for display to my dismay. Art lovers will be horrified at my exploration of the Met, but I saw what I wanted to see and skipped what I appreciate is important art but not interesting to me. I'm not so interested in ancient art - preferring the art of 50s through to now, and the Met primarily exhibitions older works.
Given my fairly quick trip to the Met, I figure I have time to fit the Guggenheim into my day as well. Before even entering the building you have to stop and marvel at Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural wonder. It truly is a sight to see. Once inside I quickly distinguish that their current exhibit is not my kind of modern art. However I am still able to enjoy the art of the building, gawd that makes me sound pretentious!
Situated on the Upper East Side, I walk along Madison Avenue. It's a lovely place but is definitely aimed at a market that I am not a part of.
Tuckered out at the end of my day I find an inexpensive Mexican restaurant near my hostel (thanks Zagat) and enjoy a delicious meal. Now that is my favourite kind of art.
A somber start to my day at the 9/11 Memorial. The memorial is quite lovely and a fitting tribute to the countless innocent victims of that fateful day and it's predecessor, an attack in 1994. I start reading names etched into the surface surrounding the North Pool but find it too hard reading name after name of each victim. At the tribute center I choke up reading the timeline of the events and have to leave, feeling too emotional to handle the cruelty of humanity.
Heading to something totally different and far happier, I stop for a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery before my NBC Studio Tour. Honestly this tour is a bit of a bust. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't what happened. I have no complaints about our pages - just like 30 Rock, they were very knowledgable, but something about the tour just felt off. But it was cool to see the SNL stage.
By the time I got out of NBC I was starved and decided it was time to foray into some really traditional American cuisine, the burger. Or more specifically an NYC chain with humble beginnings conquering the city, the one and only Shake Shack. The fries were nothing to write home about - Grill'd ones are better, and my burger was nice but the shake, oh my the shake. I have never ever had a better milkshake in my life and doubt I ever will.
To end my day the snow came and it fell, starting thin and then falling until it was actually sticking to the roads and sidewalk. Monitoring it from our hostel room, it eventually got to a point where it was necessary for Erin and I, two Australians to whom snow is a novelty, to go outside, make footprints in the snow, run around giggling in delight (only me) and take photos.
Just for something new I start my day in Central Park, wanting to see it covered in snow. I'm glad I took the extra time to see it because it's pretty and magical and a sight to behold.
New York City has a museum for everything, even sex. Being able to enter said museum through my NYC attractions pass I think why not go and have a look. The place doesn't end up being much to ring home about. There's a really obnoxious group making high pitched "ewwww's" at everything so I end up leaving pretty quickly.
It's a cloudy, miserable day in NYC. Not the ideal weather for a trip up the Empire State Building, another thing I can do through my pass which is about to expire and I'm right in the neighborhood. I got my city views through Top of the Rock so very low visibility is okay. I want to go up, how can you not? Due to the weather there are no cues and I whip right through the entryways and up the very pretty elevator to the first observation deck. It is SO COLD up there on the 84th floor, so I spend minimal outside working quickly to look around, take my photos and GTFO.
I'm due to meet Laura for lunch but it's not for a while so I enjoy the chance to stroll down 5th to the edge of Greenwich Village. By this time it's raining and I am very glad of the hood on my new Michael Kors jacket and it's water resistant properties although this does cause the rain to roll off my jacket and on to my jeans. And my wonderful boots get wet and thus my feet too. Wah, wah #firstworldproblems. While I don't like the rain at all, I figure it's better to be rained on in NYC than be at home! Anyhoo, I reach Washington Square Park and wait under the arch for Laura. Once she arrives we wander around Greenwich Village until we find a nice looking diner for lunch. To both the disappointment of both of us we're led to table not a booth. The menu is an overload of excellent options and both of us have trouble deciding. We end up ordering the same dish, quesadillas. And they are goooood. On the subway uptown we have a quick goodbye as Laura is off to San Fran tomorrow.
I have to hot foot it from the subway station to Carnegie Hall for the 2pm tour and I only just make it. Our guide is very knowledgable and has lot of interesting facts about the building and history of the hall. We clap to demonstrate the acoustics of the place and man are they good. To me though the best part is just looking at and appreciating the hall.
Following on from my Carnegie Hall tour I walk over the the Lincoln Center to do the same there. Our tour guide is perfectly friendly but there's just something about her that gets on my nerves. She's a performer who has fallen into other work to make ends meet, and so she uses obnoxious arty words and asks questions like "what do you think the architect was trying to achieve with the openness of the space?" She also has the kind of whiny American accent that I detest, but I do feel bad for her because a lot of the people in this group are idiots. She explains that we can take photos in the lobbies and foyers but not inside the three theaters we will visit. One German man with a huge SLR who insists on taking photos even when our tour guide is talking which is so rude, wants to clarify this and Terri Lynn explains again there are to be no photos. But of course in the ballet theater what does he do? Pull out his camera and starts to take photos and when Terri Lynn admonishes him, he tries to the play the 'English is my second language, I didn't understand' card when in actual fact he did understand and is just a f***ing idiot. Also in the ballet theater the company currently performing there is having a marking rehearsal so we are asked not to talk, which honestly I think should be a given. And again two young (but older than me) German guys keep talking even after being reminded not to and at that moment I feel really embarrassed to be a tourist. I think the Lincoln Center is great in that it houses theater, dance, opera, classical and jazz music but I find the three main auditoriums to be way too OTT and I preferred the understated beauty of Carnegie Hall.
Not having any particularly pressing plans, read none, I enjoy a walk up Columbus Avenue back to the hostel. On my walk I am stopped twice by fellow tourists for directions and can even answer their questions. This has happened to be a number of times that past few days. Guess I'm fitting into NYC quite well!
Would you walk 62 blocks round trip for dessert? I think you would for a Shake Shack shake.
Until this morning I hadn't actually gone any further uptown than the hostel. I rectified that quickly with a walk up to Columbia University which has a lovely campus. Then back down at few blocks to marvel at the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
Not only is NYC a sightseers dream, but to me a mecca of food and culture. Having read about Momofuku Milk Bar, I was keen to give it a try and luckily for me they have a shop on the Upper West Side. It was hard to decide between a shake or pie but I didn't need both and also then have an excuse to visit again. I chose the candy bar pie and it lived up to its name. It's a combination of chocolate, biscuit and peanut butter fatty goodness. Nom nom nom indeed.
Next stop on the NYC tourist express was a tour of Radio City Music Hall. Holy crap that place is big, seating almost 6000 people. And to think it was originally used as a movie theater. Crazy! As part of the tour we even met one of the famed Rockettes.
From theater to art, I hopped on over to MoMA. It's a lot less overwhelming than the Met which immediately made the place more inviting to me. I focused on three of their exhibitions which covered photography and art from the 1920s-1980s. Still my favourite museum of art was is the Whitney but MoMA comes in second.
It has become apparent to me that my footwear is still lacking for the NYC early Spring rain and snow. The boots of choice for women on these says are almost always Ugg or Hunter. Take a guess which ones I like and which I detest. Another advantage of my tourist pass was a 15% savings at the famed and beloved Bloomingdales which I had been meaning to visit anyway and stock a certain brand of boots. So in my possession I now have Hunter boots. They're lovely. NYC weather ice me your best, I'm ready!
It seemed only fitting after the luxurious Bloomingdales to continue on the Upper East Side to Ladurée for a delightful Parisian afternoon treat. In car you're not aware, Ladurée are makers of expensive but delightful macarons. I settled on a box of six to last my sweet tooth the next few days and thus meaning I could try lots of flavours. I can recommend vanilla, rose petal and lime and basil. Deeeelish!
And what to end this luxury culture day? A Broadway show of course. I was extremely tempted to buy a ticket to Wicked but first want to focus on shows I haven't seen before. I chose Newsies and it was excellent. More 'showy' than Once, which not a criticism of either show, I really enjoyed the dance component of Newises. The little boy who played Les was a scene stealer and Cory Cott who plays main character Jack Kelly is excellent.
I'm coming down with some sort of cold - winner, so I slept much later than I normally do but I guess my body needed the rest. Going with that vibe I had a lazy morning and didn't actually set foot out of the hostel until after 11, unheard of for my whole US stay.
I walked across the park to the Upper East Side on a mission to find the Museum of the City of New York, or what you would know as Constance Billards/St Jude's. Continuing my Gossip Girl tour, I headed to the Empire Hotel next which is a real place and is really called the Empire. Following Gossip Girl, it was time to track down some SATC sights in Greenwich Village. Whoever lives in 'Carrie's' building must hate all the tourists because they have hung a rope across their stairs - fair enough, it is private property. Next I found the original Magnolia Bakery which is the cutest little shop. And to finish of this cheesy day I found the Friends building.
NYC is big. I can see how people find it overwhelming. But for once the movies are not making bulls*** up, NYC is magical. I am enamoured.
Also I got sick of uploading photos to fb and here, too hard basket. Be sure to check out my NYC snaps at the link below.