Wide awake in the ‘City that Never Sleeps’

After fulfilling a life long dream last year and visiting New York City for the first time, I was back this summer – and how much more relaxed I was this time. As I had seen most of the major sights already, I didn’t have the permanent feeling of not being able to linger somewhere and constantly thinking “Got to go, there’s so much more to see”. I still managed to make my feet hurt by the end of each day; I do prefer exploring places on foot, if possible, which means I could end up walking from the upper end of midtown to downtown, on to Brooklyn and back again, crisscrossing the island of Manhattan. This time I also got to explore parts of the other boroughs and even spent a day at the beach, enjoying a refreshing swim in the Atlantic during the heat wave.

Back home while looking through hundreds of photographs I was wondering what exactly to show you. So I’ve decided to go for the places where there weren’t that many tourists around. It doesn’t mean these are less interesting or less beautiful places but sometimes just that extra bit further away. I will try not to bore you with too many details, you can always look things up.

The Cathedral of St John the Divine (nicknamed St John the Unfinished) is located at the north western end of Central Park in the Morningside Heights neighbourhood. Building began in 1892 and, as the nickname suggests, it remains unfinished to this day. But my main reason for visiting: it’s MASSIVE!! There is a dispute whether St John or Liverpool Cathedral is the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church but it definitely is the fourth largest Christian church in the world. Entry is free, however they ask for a donation. Please give some, so they might be able to finish it one day. DON’T MISS: the Keith Haring tryptich, his last work before he died!

The northern part of Central Park is far less crowded and much hillier than its southern part but doesn’t lack attractions. You can come across several foundations of old forts, Harlem Meer is a nice spot and the Conservatory Garden is one of the hidden wonders of Central Park. It’s the only formal garden in Central Park and is divided into three separate gardens: the French Garden, the Italian Garden and the English Garden.

The Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens is probably best known for its unisphere and the water towers which have featured in many films and movies. Created for the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair and also hosting the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair it is the largest park in Queens. The nearby zoo and science museum make a nice addition for a day out and in summer they offer open air screenings of movies. DON’T MISS: the mosaics when you enter the park from the subway station. Where else can you step on a Salvador Dali?!

The Staten Island Ferry offers some spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline, and it’s completely free! It’s not really a secret anymore and tourists are flocking to the ferry  but it’s not as crowded as on the boats to the Statue of Liberty. Make sure you have enough time for a wander around Staten Island and taking in some of the sights. DON’T MISS: the Battery Maritime Building next door to the ferry terminal. It is being redeveloped now but you can still imagine the old splendour. The Governor’s Island Ferry departs from here.

South Street Seaport and Pier 15 East River Esplanade are a good option if you want to chill out. Pier 15 offers a bi-level recreational space on the water with sun lounges and a nice view over Brooklyn. Next to it you can see the The Peking, a steel hulled 4-masted barque. South Street Seaport is a designated historic district and features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan. It offers some nice boutique shops and bars. DON’T MISS: the Brooklyn Bridge mural and Fishbridge Park Garden (corner Water St & Dover St), probably the smallest garden open to the public I have ever been to. (Oh, and there is a water taxi IKEA Express Shuttle departing from Wall Street Pier 11 in case you’re in need of some Swedish furniture.)

When you walk amidst all those skyscrapers in Manhattan you easily forget that this is actually an island. Whereas the stretch from  North Cove Yacht Harbour to South Cove Park is less touristy it’s still worthwhile to continue through Battery Park. It’s beautifully planted and offers some interesting monuments too. DON’T MISS: The Sphere that once stood in the middle of Austin J. Tobin Plaza, the area between the World Trade Center. 

If you fancy a day at the beach I’d recommend Rockaway Beach in Queens but the most famous beach resort is still Coney Island. Very colourful, a bit commercial and tacky but the beach is nice and the Atlantic Ocean wonderfully refreshing. DON’T MISS: Eat a hot dog at Nathan’s, the most famous hot dog in the world. It’s celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and the first Coney Island store is still there, though I preferred to eat mine on the promenade.

Obviously architecture and the ‘weird and the wonderful’ are a big part of New York City as well, so here is just a small selection of some other things I came across.

 

There is plenty more to see and do. I can’t recommend the American Museum of Natural History enough; make sure to catch a movie at one of the movies in the park events, (the one in Brooklyn Bridge Park has the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop!), but be sure to protect yourself from those mosquitos; try some food from the original The Halal Guys, there’s usually a queue in front of the carts but worth the wait; The Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum is great, based on an old aircraft carrier you can see lots of planes, a Concorde and even the space shuttle Enterprise; catch a sunset at Brooklyn Bridge Park and roam the streets of Manhattan at night with all those colourful lights; and get on top of one of the skyscrapers (I like Top of the Rock) for some stunning views (DON’T MISS: look up the elevator shaft when going up and down at Top of the Rock).

All is ‘tickety-boo’ – this was 2015

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2015 was certainly an interesting year. I travelled a lot to some very interesting places, met lovely people along the way and made very  interesting experiences. I walked up mountains, discovered cities and watched the three queens together with about one million people in Liverpool. 

Amongst the places that stood out the most were certainly New York City, Blenheim Palace and Llanddwyn Island. New York had been a life long dream come true and it was funny in some ways as I’m finally getting used to all the British dialects and accents but felt somewhat challenged by certain American pronunciations. I will never forget one of the phone calls I made whilst there. I had to confirm my shuttle service from the hotel to the airport. After some formalities I was finally asked “Where are you staying, ma’am?” and I answered in my best English “The Pod Hotel.” “Where?” “The P-O-D Hotel!” “I can’t find that on my list. What’s the address?” By now I began to sweat slightly and gave the lady the address of my hotel. “Hmmm. Is that port or pod?” And here’s the thing, she pronounced it ‘pɑd’ whereas I had pronounced it ‘pɒd’ (you can hear the difference here) So after I copied her pronunciation everything went smoothly. Still a lot to learn.

Also this year I have been closest to a hunt I hopefully will ever be. I’m not talking about a fox hunt here but pheasants, I think. I had been out on a walk in Shropshire and had been hearing some shooting and pheasants shouting (or whatever you call it) for a while. At a canal I met a mother with some children. The children were wearing protective headphones and started playing at a canal. They looked as if they had been bored for a while and were glad to be able to throw some stones and sticks into the water. The mother, however, said to them “Keep quiet, this is still a drive.” This is when I spotted some hunters with their rifles in the meadows. I quickened my pace and tried to find some tranquility. Still not British enough for some traditions.

I hope the new year has more exciting adventures in store for me that I can share with you and you will hopefully enjoy reading about them. 
Here’s to 2016!

Fulfilling a Dream: New York, you were wonderful!

I can’t believe it’s been a week already since I left the exciting city of New York. I had a wonderful time, managed to see a lot and still haven’t scratched the surface. I already know new places to visit next time.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share some more impressions with you that don’t include major sights (well, apart from a few) and to share some of my newfound ‘wisdom’.

Walk – as much as you can. Somehow Manhattan didn’t seem quite as big as I imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it is a big city but was manageable on foot. The grid system is easy for orientation and if you walk at a certain pace (namely mine), the lights will turn to ‘walk’ just in time when you get there and you can just keep walking. As long as you don’t change directions, that is.

If you are on a shopping spree on 5th Ave, get tired and find yourself on the upper end – grab yourself a coffee or ice-cream in the atrium of the Trump Tower and go up to the outdoor gardens on the 5th and 6th floor. You won’t get a great view but it’s quiet and tourists just usually stop by to take a picture and leave again.

trump tower clock

Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art – and here’s the thing. Entry is $25 but it’s a RECOMMENDED admission charge. You can pay as much as you like, they will ask you how much you want to give and won’t be offended if you part with less. Make sure you’ve got a couple of hours because there is much to see and don’t miss the roof garden (open May-October), the view of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline is amazing.

skyline MET small

You might have to wait a bit at the elevators as numbers are restricted. But the view is worth the wait.

If you love books – Strand Book Store is the place to go. You can get books to reduced prices and even rare ones. Apart from the store on Broadway they also have Central Park Kiosks (60th St at 5th Ave).

If the weather is nice and warm don’t waste your time in a restaurant. Grab yourself something to eat and get a table or bench in a square or park like everybody else. Much more interesting and there’s always free space. Maybe even play a game of speed chess at Union Square.

union square

Relax at one of the tables in Union Square

But enough with the talking (or writing in this case), I wanted to show you some impressions that don’t necessarily include one of New York’s major sights.

First of all, there is the architecture. Keep your eyes upwards and you can spot intricate details on many buildings. Unfortunately I can’t tell you the name or location of every building and some I missed completely due to lack of time (or knowledge).

And then there is the more modern architecture (and no, not the Gehry building)

But if you’re looking more for that ‘village feeling’ and the typical fire escapes

Another art form New York is quite famous for is graffiti. Just walking up and down The High Line shows you some nice examples but you can find in various places

New York wouldn’t be New York without some curiosities

And finally my favourite sculpture. There are many in New York, in parks, on squares, in front of buildings, by the road. But this one caught my attention. It’s the American Merchant Mariners Memorial in Battery Park south from Pier A. Set out in the harbour on a stone break water and shows three men balancing on a tilting deck, one of them trying to reach a fourth man in the water. Their hands are barely touching, but when the tide rises, the drowning man disappears. It is moving especially as the waves break over the head of the drowning man making him appear to bob up and down. The sculpture was based on photograph of a real event from World War II.

sculpture merchants

The dramatic sculpture was dedicated in 1991 and created by Marisol Escobar.

I’m reading the book ‘I never knew that about New York’ at the moment that I bought on my last day in New York. I wish I’d had it before my holidays. It’s a good read and gives you some information and details you won’t find in your regular guide book. I’m already planning what I’m going to see next time…

Fulfilling a dream – New York Part 2

Fulfilling a dream – New York Part 1

For many many years I had been talking about visiting New York and as I celebrated a special birthday this year (Not 29 any more. No, not 39 either) this trip was a birthday present to myself. Some might think, oh that sounds like a midlife crisis – well, so be it. But instead of getting myself a flashy sports car I invest the money in travel instead.

I’ve been here for two days now (well, 1 1/2 really) and what can I say, I love it. I have seen many of the major sights already but have yet to try my luck on the subway. I like to walk to get a feel for a new place or city, a habit my feet don’t always appreciate.

So I wanted to share a couple of first impressions and experiences:

For a city that has to struggle with a lot of traffic there aren’t many ‘city cars’. The overall attitude seems to be ‘the bigger the better’. Maybe it’s the need to conquer the urban wilderness. I can count the number of small cars on one hand so far and for good measure I put the only VW Beetle into the count as well.

Cyclists seem to have a suicidal tendency. Not just because they even attempt to cycle in this mad traffic but because of the way they drive. It’s more likely to get run over by a bicycle than a car.

I never thought I could get a worse sunburn whilst walking in the shadows of skyscrapers than lying on a mediterranean beach.

Central Park is amazing and was just the right choice for a long walk after arriving here. There are some other beautiful parks and squares throughout the city which makes it feel quite green actually.

central park upper west side small

View from Central Park towards ‘real estate heaven’ on Upper West Side.

I like Little Italy, it feels like being on a holiday whilst on holiday. Reminded me of some Italian places I’ve been to.

I’ve never seen that many people on one bridge than on Brooklyn Bridge.

brooklyn bridge

Always stay on your side of the walkway and be aware of the cyclists. I’ve witnessed several almost collisions because people were taking photographs and not paying attention to their surroundings.

brooklyn hights manhattan

Time for an afternoon snack with a lovely view from Brooklyn towards Manhattan.

The High Line was a marvellous idea and gives you a bit of a break from all the hustle and bustle while still getting new impressions of the city.

the high line

The High Line was once a dingy elevated rail line.

Times Square is just madness and somehow looks bigger on TV. A wide-angle lens from an upper floor can work wonders.

times square

Just to give you an idea this was round about 9pm and still bustling.

Some other well known buildings of the city:

flatiron building

Flatiron Building – it’s worthwhile taking a closer look because it features some beautiful exterior details.

empire state building

One of the landmarks – the Empire State Building.

chrysler building

I love the fusion of art deco and a bit of Gothic. Those must be the most famous gargoyles on a skyscraper. The Chrysler Building.

radio city music hall

Can’t be missed, Radio City Music Hall.

Just a few observations so far. Obviously there’s more to see than just your usual sightseeing destinations but that’s something for a later date, just too many photos to go through and there’s so much to do and see…