Saturday, October 7, 2000

New York, New York, October 2000

The flight to New-York was just under 8 hours and fairly uneventful. The couple next to me were going to spend 3 nights in the City and I was most intrigued when 20 mins before touch down the young man got a box down from the luggage rack possibly 15”x 6”x 6” which he handed to his Lady. She opened it up to reveal a pop-up mirror and umpteen pots and boxes and numerous brushes with which she proceeded to do art work on her face. On taking a good look at her face I could not say that it was an improvement as I had not seen her last year but it seemed an example of excess vanity baggage compared with my Bic razor, comb and tooth brush. They were staying at the Marriot Hotel.                                  

By 10.30 we were through customs and baggage and waiting outside for the Grey-line Transport that Mark had arranged through his Travel agent to get us to the Hotel. As there was no sign of him Mark spoke with the large black clerk at the desk. On her doing some phoning it appeared that we would have to wait 2 hours, she soon put a stop to that nonsense and the guy was on the scene in 20 mins. The small run around had about 8 lots of visitor including us and I noticed a sign inside that said “Your Voucher payment does not include the drivers tip!”. However as the guy could not or would not find our Hotel and we finished 2 blocks from where we should be his remonstrations fell on deaf ears with Mark who was handling everything.

Union Square Inn is in a somewhat seedy part of lower Mid-Town Manhattan and the whole of the front was in the process of being “Done up”. However once inside and at the desk things looked smarter. Nice carpeting, woodwork and door furniture but on looking for the lift as we were room 404 on the 3rd floor we find we had to resort to climbing the stairs (50) to get to our room. The key to the door is a piece of plastic which opens the door to reveal a room approximately 7 feet and a half by 11 feet and a half with one bed a bedside bit of furniture with a bed-side light on it. On the other short wall by the door is a chest of drawers and that is about it, apart from the on-suite bathroom facilities. The first words Mark says are “Where’s your bed?”. Mark queries the situation with the office and returns with the news that there are two beds there but one is sitting on top of the other the top one being made slightly larger. We first have to find a home for the bedside gear and so get it jammed in beside the chest of drawers and the door, which leaves just enough room for the bathroom door to open. Once we get the beds in place there is about 18 inches between them. However there is a T.V. fixed up on the wall and air conditioning also, it’s true we are short on space but what would we have done with it if had some, eat it? 

By 1.30 we are on the streets walking with a view to find the City Library so that Mark could have a session on the internet and get some messages back home. We find the library on 5th Ave and Mark has to wait till 3.0 p.m. to get a place on a computer so the 45 min wait. I was quite glad of the sit down as my back had developed a painful muscle, I think I must have been sitting in the plane in a poor posture. The Library rooms are magnificent, beautiful big tables and chairs, the wooden armchairs quite huge, to fit one big American or one and a half Englishman. We spend the time perusing the map of Manhattan and planning a few trips. Mark gets a half hour on the internet and gets 6 or 7 messages off. We then made a point of searching out the Empire State Building and return back to base via the Flat Iron Building where we stopped for our first meal in an eating place. Mark orders a chicken sandwich that comes with a salad dish. The sandwich is so large he cannot get his mouth round it. My meal was a Macaroni cheese dish with ham. I could only manage half of this of course and Mark decided to call a halt at half way through his. He asked for the remaining half to be wrapped up to take away and it came back in a neat plastic container. This first meal cost 17 dollars, about £12 which for what we had and being where we were was par for the course.

Back at the Inn about 5.0 p.m. where I tried out the kettle and had a drink and started on the first of the loaves with an Apricot Jam Butty. It had been a long day, by now it must have been about 2.0 a.m. our time but only 7.30 p.m New York time but we settled down to sleep anyway. Not a great night’s sleep for me, could not locate the sleeping pills and was awake on and off all night. Awake from 4.0 onwards and just waited till 6.0 when I thought it time I got a hot drink going. The local electric power was 120 volts so our little kettle took a good 15 mins to get the 2 cups of water to boil. Whilst this was happening I would get washed and shaved and dressed and then was ready to get a little something for our Breakfast.

On the road again just after 8.0 a.m. and walked through Chinatown, very interesting, fruit shops with all the fruit polished up and the Chinese eating houses with rows of roast duck in the windows. Chinatown seemed to cover a very big area. Found Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it. Plenty of people on bikes or jogging, skating or just generally taking a walk and some fresh air. A really fine day, Blue sky and good views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Took almost half an hour to get across the bridge and then we walked into Brooklyn itself via a wooded area and a small park where we sat and eat the contents of the “doggy” bag and a ham sandwich that I had made before we left. Walked further into Brooklyn with a view to getting to the Botanical Gardens but on asking a couple of chaps they said it was too far to walk and in any case we would have had to go through a rather rough area. They suggested we walk to the promenade and pointed us in the right direction. Great views of Manhattan from the promenade and got talking to a gent who was out for a stroll and he took us to another viewing point and chatted to us about Brooklyn and New York. Made our way back across the bridge and made our way towards Battery Park and the ferry area.

This must have been Saturday as we had decided to drop the idea of having Lunch at the Jazz Club that Roger had mentioned as we were too far away by now. Thought we might go eat in McDonalds as I could see a jazz pianist playing in an upstairs. Had fun watching the customers, lots of weird blacks and odd New York Characters. Onto Battery Park and saw the big queues of folks waiting to get on to the ferry for Statue of Liberty. Visited the World Trade Centre and sat for a while in the vast atrium and just wondered at everything. Set off back up town at 2.0 p.m. going past the old jetties where the big Atlantic Liners used to berth and then cut in to get to the Contemporary Art Museum then a brief look at the Puck Building and back along Lafayette & 4th Ave. Bought some ham and some cake and got back at the Inn at around 5.0pm.

Sunday. We have a late start, 9.0 a.m. after a breakfast in the room of ham sandwich followed by an apricot jam sandwich and ample coffee we are on the road again. We decide to give Marks feet an easier day as he had developed a blister on the bottom of each heel so decided to take the Cruise around the island of Manhattan. With the concession for me this came to $41, which was our biggest expense for the whole 6 days. The boat could had held about 150 passengers and slowly worked its way anti clock-wise around the whole island and had a drinks and sandwich bar on one of the decks. A commentary was being given by “Dave … my name’s Dave”. He was a real New Yorker with attitude and made the trip very interesting with plenty of good information and witty remarks. 
This took just over two and a half hours. We took several photos of the skyline of Manhattan and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A beautiful clear day, blue sky but cold.

From Battery Park where we disembarked we set off to walk to Central Park. Somewhere along the way we passed through a rather smart section with Hotels with a canvas awning out in front covering the sidewalk to the kerb with a convex mirror at each outer corner. Mark had the idea they were to see that nobody of mischievous intent was found lurking about. However to get to the bottom of the puzzle I stopped and asked at one place where there was a doorman on duty and had a good chat with him. In the Winter when it is well below freezing the mirrors enabled the doormen of these places to keep an eye on the streets without getting frozen and he said that it was important to stop “Dogs Delivery” in the vicinity of the place. At various places we saw “Stretch Limo’s”, a white one which Mark took a photo of me holding the door measured 12 of my paces about 20 feet.

Central Park starts at 59th street and carried on for two and a half miles up to 108 Street. We of course walked all the way stopping to have a Hot Dog at a food stand and then to watch the passing show at one of the big lakes with a water fountain playing. From here we decided to walk to the very top of the park to where there was the Conservatory Park. We didn’t see anything of a conservatory but the was an excellent water fountain and formal gardens. Not a lot of people at this end, quite a peaceful bit of space. We found a spot where we could look out on to the lake at the top of the park so as to be able to say we had seen the top of Central Park.

It was now time to make our way back to the Inn and there was no way I could manage to walk all the way back to 14th street which could have been another 4 miles!! We then got a bus going down 5th Ave. The fare is one and a half dollars each so Mark tendered $3 to the Driver who said “Coins only.” we said we had no coins so he motioned for us to sit down anyway and set off on his route. Subsequent passengers who were in the same predicament who refused getting to stay on the bus so we considered ourselves lucky. Again it was fun to observe the passengers and the driver who was a big black guy. We bought some food in a “deli”. Here we helped ourselves to salad and stuff and got the whole lot weighed and carried it away in a plastic box. This we had back at the Inn with 2 beers. Watched T.V. and read and Mark worked out that we had spent $100 in 3 days and he had $160 left, of course I had at least £100 so no worries.

Monday was a Public Holiday also Yom Kippur but everything was open and working. We decided we would walk through Chinatown again and also see the Stock Exchange. It was quite cool 10c and a North wind blowing so we got extra clothes on. When got to Chinatown we saw lots of the local Chinese doing Tai Chi type of exercises with some Chinese music coming from a load-speaker a couple had wooden swords which they did special movements with also there was a man stripped down to his blue jeans walking around this little playground with 3 or 4 plastic cups balanced on his head just slowly walking round and round, we figured it must be some form of meditation. We were wrapped up in several layers against the cold but he did not seem to feel it. Outside the playground we saw a crowd of men gathered in a bunch and on closer examination saw there were 2 small tables and they were playing a serious game of Majong. Nearby a crowd of Chinese women round a table and they were playing cards. All in the open, about 9.30 a.m. on a cold morning but they were all wrapped up. 

We made for the river then and made our way through Fulton Fish Market and gradually round so that we could look down Wall Street. Here we saw the large Bronze of a Bull which was attracting the attention of a crowd of Japanese Tourists, Mark took a photo of the Bull and then we had to wait a while for the next group of tourist to view the Exchange. Finally we got into the Exchange building after going through a security check. From up above the dealing room we could observe the frenetic activity of the dealers busy making deals and share prices being logged on a big screen.

After this we headed back into Chinatown again and sorted out the Chinese restaurant we wanted to eat at. Mark had spotted some Peking Duck in the window of one particular place and this is where we finished up. This was the most expensive meal we ever had the whole time, but we enjoyed it all. Started with a pot of tea which we drank while waited for the stuff we had ordered. As a starter we had a dish of what I could only describe as “baps” opened up and filled with duck by the waiter and then the main course of Peking Duck with plenty of green shoots and veg of a Chinese nature and finished with an Orange. 

Mark wanted to get some presents for home so we made our way to “Macy’s” which was not to far from the Empire State Building. However we went too far and got near the Grand Central Station so called in there and admired the huge interior. We went down below and explored the Food Concourse. Treated ourselves to an Ice Cream. We also spent a bit of time in the Railway Museum there, which was fun and then to “Macy’s”. Mark was pondering whether to buy a “Macy’s” shopping bag, a rather swish affair but then went off to look at other stuff. I, while this was going on sat resting myself and noted that the Gay fellow at a desk was issuing these bags for free if the customer could produce a receipt for goods spent up to $30 so as soon as Mark showed up I tipped him off about this and a satisfactory deal was done.

We had decided to get up the Empire State Building today but to wait until it was just approaching dusk and so it was time to get along. The entrance price was $9 & $7 for my concession, and up we went in the lift to the 86th floor. The view is indescribable, it has to be experienced, we saw it in daylight, dusk and as the light went completely. The view is so compelling it is with difficulty that you tear yourself away from it and come down to earth again. I bought a calendar of New York Views for $7 and then we got a couple of bottles of beer and some ham and got back to the Inn. Now 8.0 p.m. so we had been on the go for 12 hours and still had to climb the 50 steps to the room!!

Tuesday. Set off for the “Met” at 8.30 a.m. and got there after an hours walking just as the place was opening. Saw much of interest, most impressive being the structure and open space layout. Trees in pots etc. Great American section, stained glass windows and huge artefacts from the various rich benefactors such as the Vanderbilts. Had a couple of hours there and then moved up town to have quick look at the Guggenheim, which was under extensive renovation. Crossed the park and saw the Belvedere Castle type building. Then a little walk downtown to take in the Natural History Museum; we used Robs free voucher here. Vast place; quite tired by now but covered a fair bit of the place. We had a simple meal soon after this. Mark had a chicken sandwich and I had a meal of Tuna and some salad all weighed out on a scale by the till. Mark was now seeking out a magazine shop as he wanted to by a magazine on Embroidery for a friend. Found a shop with a reputed 7,000 magazines for sale!!

Mark phoned the Grayline people and came back with the news that they would not or could not pick up from the hotel, only from the corner of 7th Ave & 31 St. Later he phoned the airport to confirm the return flight. We bought 2 cans of beer and a tomato for (35 cents) to go with the sardine sandwich I planned to make for our supper. We walked all the way back to the Inn a total we figured of 11 kms which we thought was the average for each day. I worked out that each block was a total of 90 paces and taking about a minute a block to walk.

Wednesday. We packed up the bags and left them in the office. We then set off for the Forbes Inc Museum, on the way we passed an old Jewish Cemetery. We had some difficulty in locating the Forbes Collection and asked a Lady doing some gardening and finally found the building.
It was now 10.30am, the Forbes collection started off with a huge collection of model boats and ships, could have been 200. Then a collection of very important letters from men of state and various notables. Finally the Faberge collection and just at the exit a most amazing mechanical device mounted on the wall with a series of large ball-bearings going through hoops and loops and swinging arms and then to start all over again, a most gigantic Executive Toy designed to try and take your mind away from your falling the stocks and shares market.

After this we had our midday snack in a small park and amused ourselves watching the locals again. We wanted to see the tour that took us all over the Tenement Blocks that the immigrants to New York lived in during the early part of the century. This started at 2.0pm so we made our way to the site and joined a group of 12 and a guide who gave an excellent talk about the building and the occupants and how they lived in those times.

We had a fair bit of time to fill between now and when we should pick up our bags from the hotel and make our way to the pick-up corner. We thought a diversion would be to walk to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge and this did indeed take up about an hour’s walking and exploring, not a great view as the structure of the bridge blocked out a lot of the scene, however we can say that we walked the Williamsburg Bridge!!

So it’s now back to the Inn and get on the Underground to get to 7th Ave and 31st. The stop was a little further on so more walking this time with our bags. However we found an interesting spot near Madison Square Gardens and watched the antics of the fans going in to see a ball game of some kind. Finally we moved over to where the transport would be hopefully stopping to pick us up to take us to Newark Airport. We finally finished the last of the 2 loaves of bread with a large ham sandwich.

A truly memorable holiday, quite unforgettable.