I may be up and out by 7am but it’s noon back home so it feels like a lie in. Today’s weather is forecast as hot and sunny but there’s colder and wetter weather on the way. The great outdoors it is then. But not before bacon, eggs and pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast at my local subterranean eatery one block up. When in New York…
Emerging from the subway at Times Square is like walking through the cupboard into Narnia. I have walked onto a film set. The streets teem with purposeful striding New Yorkers dodging in and out of the yellow taxis, and tourists – faces upturned at the vertical infinity of glass and stone monoliths that compete for daylight in this urban jungle. So it’s true then – New York City actually exists – and within an instant I have fallen for its brash charms.
I spend half an hour wandering, watching and absorbing the heady sights and sounds. You really do feel an energy here. Then almost inevitably there is a bomb scare and a few blocks get cordoned off by the omnipresent NYPD. I do the sensible thing and get as close as I can but there is nothing to see.
Onto a hop-on hop-off bus to be introduced to the delights of downtown from the open top deck, as recommended by numerous people. There’s a continuous stream of information and wisecracks from the tour leader. A lot of it is to do with the countless notable buildings and personalities that have found a home here but there are some historical gems thrown in for good measure. I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of birds that fly between and presumably nest upon the high rise buildings. Eventually we pass through Wall Street and emerge into the greenery of Battery Park adjoining the mighty Hudson river. Lured by a promise of a view towards the Statue of Liberty I stroll through the trees to the waterfront.
The green lady is visible but a long way off. More of her another day. It has turned out to be a glorious day and many people are enjoying the sights and street performers in the midday sun.
Seated again on the top deck we head up the Lower East side with views across the river to Brooklyn and the still incredible Brooklyn Bridge. There are fleeting impressions of Chinatown, Little Italy and East Village which all warrant a return visit on foot. Buildings here have a 6 floor height restriction making the area unpopular with property developers and this thankfully has effectively resulted in the preservation of older charismatic housing stock.
At the United Nations building the bus turns west across town, past the Rockefeller centre and the southern extent of Central Park. This mornings bomb scare has caused traffic chaos and with the bus unable to head south we end up on 9th Avenue in Hells Kitchen. The name alludes to a dark history of feuding nationalities but now the battle is purely commercial. A kaleidoscopic diversity of ethnicity has spawned the countless cheap and colourful cafes and bars that characterise the neighbourhood. The only “hell” is in choosing where to go for lunch. Thai eventually wins out.
Feet rested I stroll down 9th Ave to take it all in. Why locals bother with TV is beyond me. It’s all here on the street- drama, entertainment, art, farce – a pop video for the making. My plan of walking down to Chelsea Market is short lived as I begin to appreciate the scale of the city. What looks like a 10 minute walk is probably 40 so I decide to head west inland again past the colossal central post office and Maddison Square Garden.
Without warning the gargantuan Macys department store materialises and I head inside. I manage to spend $50 within the first 50 yards and figure that based on total sales floor area it would be a financial catastrophe for me to walk any further.
My map tells me that the Empire State is very close but I can’t find it. Stupid? Not so. Imagine looking for a giant redwood when you are standing in a dense forest of connifers. Turns out I am stood outside it and I have to walk half a block away to see it. They really should have left the ape on top to make it easier to spot.
Grand Central Station is my next destination – note “destination” and not merely conduit for travel. To enter for the first time is a sensory delight. You can actually see people physically gasp when they enter this massive stately building with its chandeliers and acres of marble. A visit to see the food court in the basement including the famous Oyster Bar merely serves to reinforce the grin already chiselled onto my face. This city just keeps on giving!
Onto the packed rush hour subway where there is a feeling of “schools out” this Friday evening with people impatient to leave the working week behind. I have travelled numerous underground networks but Manhattan’s is physically different in that there is a lack of concealment of its workings. Elsewhere you might navigate through clean lined tunnels onto a defined platform perhaps serving a single line. Here there is wrought iron on show everywhere and you can see the intersecting lines through the floor and ceilings. It feels robustly cobbled together by mechano – a far cry from the stately grace of Grand Central above, but it gets the job done.
I’m tired and back at my digs so not up for much this evening. Café Amrita sits at the Cathedral Parkway 3 blocks north and it attracts the intelligencia with a cosmopolitan appeal that my lifestyle demands. And WiFi and beer. Problem solved.
Postscript: If todays experiences had left me with any doubts about New Yorks pedigree then the joyous discovery of Bread Pudding on sale at the local supermarket on the way home truly clinches it