Easy like Monday morning

I did say that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this pace. My legs are telling me to ease back today. Manhattan is big. I mean really big. I have walked a disproportionately large amount of it so far without even consuming the medically recommended level of beer for such distances and as such I’m going to drop a gear and recharge the batteries a little.

Pretty much the whole morning is spent in Café Amrita. I’m really falling for this all day café/bar with it’s bohemian clientele and continuous stream of good music. This morning it’s Oasis, Rolling Stones and Moloko amongst others. Blogging and surfing courtesy of the free WiFi are the order of the day, or the morning at least. I appreciate this isn’t going to make for compulsive reading without pictures or a theme, so let me take the opportunity to try and paint a primitive picture of my locale and it’s musings.

In local (in a city with the population of some countries “local” can be relative term) news the story lines include…

    • A couple of days ago the Staten Island Ferry piled into the pier after it failed to stop. There were injuries and a public inquiry is under way as to the cause. Interestingly as I travelled North on the bus up Broadway yesterday the guy behind me was sharing his thoughts on the accident over the phone. He had been due to catch that ferry but had missed it. Turns out there has been widespread public concern for a while over the maintenance standards on the ferry (actually there are 6 ferries on this route).
    • The Apollo Theatre in Harlem (I walked past it yesterday) is opening a Hall Of Fame at 11am today to recognise the plethora of stars that have performed there and in some cases started there. Some of the names include Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, James Brown and Smokey Robinson, to name but some. I can’t even get my head around this list – it’s just mind blowing that any one relatively modest venue should have played host to so many greats. Of course, the subplot is that most of these acts were climbing the ladder at a time when music by black artists was mostly listened to by black audiences alone, and the Apollo was THE venue for black performers and audiences.
Apollo Theatre - Harlem
Apollo Theatre – Harlem
  • The former home of Truman Capote has been put on the market. The Brooklyn property has been listed at $18m making it the most expensive residential property on sale in the city at this time
  • In the really big news a smoothie vendor just down the road from me on Central Park West is selling drinks that are blended by bike power. Customers have the option to pedal their own smoothie to their preferred level of smoothness.

What else can I tell you about the natives? The city has 8 million inhabitants plus 1 million visitors. I would guess approximately 73 of the locals cook. There are countless eateries and a great many do delivery. I’m not just talking takeaway Indian or Chinese that us Brits would identify with. Just about any café or corner store will deliver goods to your apartment. It’s something I have already become accustomed to seeing here – a delivery dude on a bike ringing up to a room for a delivery of mundane groceries. Based on what I have picked up there are people here that simply do not cook at all. I know back home there are those whose idea of cooking is to open a can beans and burn some toast but I get the impression that some people here don’t even do that and that eat-out or delivery are the stuff of existence.

After a healthy lunch on the fly I stroll over Central Park to the Museum Of The City Of New York on Fifth Avenue. It’s not one of the rich, expansive museums but it includes some real gems. There’s a first rate 25 minute film outlining the history of the city. It’s one heck of a history. There’s a small section on toys, including a fabulous dolls house hand made in remarkable detail over a period of 25 years by a lady called Stettenheim. She even got soon-to-be-famous artist friends to paint miniature versions of classic paintings to display in some of the rooms. There are also some fascinating sections on social planning, the automobile and a collection of early photos capturing the poor conditions immigrants used to have to live in. A temporary exhibition charts the works of Charles Addams, famous for his creation of The Addams Family but who made his name as cartoonist at The New Yorker for an amazing 55 years. Funny and illuminating also.

Back across Central Park 20 blocks south – just to see how it differs from the north park. There are more people for sure and this could be down to the proximity to Midtown or just to the re-emergence of the sun. I do have one criticism about Central Park. There are no signposts. It is a huge open area with paths, roads and a number of points of interest and there is no signage whatsoever to tell you where you are, where anything else is or even where the nearest subway is. Bizarre. Still, it’s a fine stroll and the relative silence of the park enables me to listen to the NYC podcast that I had previously been unable to hear when walking down the street! I learn that nearby Coney Island was originally built up as a tourist resort by a train magnate simply so he could sell rail tickets on his new line to get there!

I'm not skating - promise!
I\’m not skating – promise!

Just in case you are worried that this picture reminds you of Cliff Richard in his Wired For Sound video let me point out that I’m not on skates!

In the evening I return briefly to Amrita before heading down Amsterdam Avenue in a doomed attempt to find a Vietnamese restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet. I did ask a local first and she was so helpful googling the venue on her phone and taking personal shame in her failure to locate the place. I managed to escape after 5 minutes and having signed a disclaimer that I would not sue her for not locating it for me. Unfortunately my guide book is out of date and the venue must have folded.

There are plenty of alternative eating choices on this section of Amsterdam Avenue and I take a chance on Hummous Place which turns out to be truly superb. On my scoffing menu are light as air falafel, outrageously moreish hummous with the most mushroomy mushrooms ever plus some kind of coriander salsa that I need to try and recreate at home, washed down with spot-on home made lemonade. To my mind it’s the kind of venture that you should be able to make a success of anywhere. The key is specialisation + quality. They might only do 5 entries, 5 mains (mostly hummous) and 5 deserts but they are fantastic. You might only fancy this kind of food 10% of the time but you will ALWAYS come here. Other eateries may offer more choice but they will most probably not be the best in their field and have no differentiating feature so you are rarely like to feel the urge to go. On my exit I spot the TimeOut recommendations plastered all over the window of this discrete and unheralded venue.

Not for the first time the advertised option has turned out to be missing or poor while an instinctive choice has shone through. It’s a reminder that travel is most enjoyable when you make your own discoveries and not when you just plough through a predetermined list of suggested highlights.

That’s my lot for the night and I let the number 7 bus take me back uptown. Today has been played out in a lower gear and tomorrow it’s back on the tourist treadmill.