Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Central Park’

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This was the plan – hop onto the uptown bus loop nice and early and make it all the way downtown in time for lunch before the predicted rain arrives. This is what happened.

Breakfast at the Park West café & deli on 108th. It’s one block away and hence my local. I get seated, order a peanut butter & jelly bagel plus tea and then the heavens open. And I mean open. This could take a while. I get chatting to a couple of retired ladies from Glasgow. They flew out the same day as me and just beat the volcanic ash cloud. Next stop a cruise to Bermuda. Oh, and they are staying in my hotel. My can they talk, but what’s the hurry when it’s too wet to go anywhere.

Then I get chatting to an interesting girl who is visiting from Costa Rica. We share a few NYC tips. She works in the catering business and tells me she is attending a bartending course this weekend, with the emphasis on cocktails by the sounds of things. She is also staying at my hotel. Her name is Carolina – the same name as the lady who dialled my room by mistake 2 nights ago and woke me up at an unearthly hour. Oh – this is going to be fun, but I can’t help it!

Did you have a problem dialling out at around 1:30am on Thursday night?”. She is so apologetic but it’s very funny. And she isn’t the only person suffering from embarrassment this morning. The waitress forgot my tea order and I didn’t remind her for over half an hour because I was deep in conversation. She is mortified but we have a laugh about it and she brings me a slice of yummy home made chocolate brownie to say sorry. Result!

A few more amusing exchanges with the locals running in and out from the rain to pick up drinks. Most notable amongst these – the lady who asked for a plastic bag to protect her hair from the rain, proclaimed to her audience that she was 75 years old and didn’t care what people thought, and then proceeded to open an umbrella as she left. Somebody explain that one.

A gusty wind has blown the rain upstate and so the café incarcerates make a break for it into the humid sunlight. It has not turned out to be the morning I expected but it has been priceless. Just to cap things off when I return to the hotel to drop off my laptop I end up in messy and complicated conversation with the doorman as I try to explain my Dangermouse T-Shirt and in particular the meaning of the word “crikey”.

It’s almost noon and the rain has now cleared so I decide to get on the uptown loop after all and within half an hour I have alighted in Harlem.

Welcome to Harlem

Welcome to Harlem

My father warned me not to go there because apparently there are “funnies” waiting to perpetrate all manner of criminal offence against my person in this place, but I stick my neck on the chopping block and gamble that a 74 year old Devonian hasn’t got his finger on the pulse of Manhattans black cultural capital.

Harlem street corner

Harlem street corner

Aint nobody knows my troubles

Aint nobody knows my troubles

Yet again it’s different, lively, loud, colourful. The powder keg days are long gone and while the working class roots are there for all to see there are also hints of aspiration and a strong community feel. The proud old timers dress smartly and I wonder what people, events and changes they may have witnessed here over the decades.

Smothered Chops!

Smothered Chops!

Lunch at Sylvias is unashamedly inspired by Lonely Planet. I order a smothered chop with collard greens and sweet potato (which turns out to be extra sweet due to the apricot jam they appear to have added) and it takes me back to my childhood in the deep south where I used to work the fields from “caint see to caint see”. Or that’s the imagery conjured up based on James Lee-Burke’s depiction of Lous’ana. It’s an interesting and unassuming place catering to American tourists, students from nearby Columbia University and to middle class locals.

Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem

The sun is back in force now and so is the wind. I’m almost blown across Malcolm X Boulevard, Fifth and Maddison onto Lexington. The walk south runs through Spanish Harlem and the street music fades from rap to salsa, the groups from young black guys and girls to old hispanic gents in caps reminiscing in the shade.

Street Art

Street Art

I close the loop by heading back west across Central Park towards my hotel. A stretch limo pulls up on fifth and a film crew crowds around the door. I ask a bystander whether it is anyone famous and he laughs and tells me it’s his grand daughters 16th birthday. The car door opens and disgorges an implausible Benny Hill precession of teens dressed as if attending a wedding.

They enter Central Park for a photo shoot and it’s a guilty joy to eavesdrop on some of their conversation. That’s one thing I would love to bring to you on this blog – a succession of overheard conversations from locals that would really help you understand the vibe of this place. There is talk everywhere and it permeates your skin. After two days here I’m thinking about local affairs in a Nu Yawk accent.

Central Park’s moniker of the Green Lung of the city is well deserved. It is green, massive and a world apart from the dizzying neighbourhoods that surround it. Today is Saturday and the North Field area has become a shrine to baseball with a number of teams battling it out between the dust clouds thrown up by the occasional strong gust.

Pitching

Pitching

Hitting

Hitting

The colours of the Mets and the Yankees are well represented and both of these local teams are also in action today.

The whole ball game

The whole ball game

There’s a few soccer balls being kicked about and kites being flown but most of the activity today is courtesy of the stream of cyclists and joggers that fill their own designated highways across the park. I will go jogging one day. Probably.

It’s early evening when I’m showered and ready to head out again. There’s a bright descending sun as I head back east across Central Park towards the Guggenheim but the heat has gone out of the day. There is a 20 minute queue to enter the building but that’s merely licence to earwig more snippets of conversation from those around me. The building lives up to it’s billing with beautiful curved art deco lines reminiscent of some of the architecture I have come across in my travels to Berlin.

Guggenheim

Guggenheim

There’s only an hour before the gallery closes so I cherry pick the bit’s that interest me. There’s a lot of Picasso, a little Renoir, a few Matisse. Some I like and some I just don’t get. I am however universally impressed with Miro.

There’s also some contemporary displays in the wonderful corkscrew corridor that ascends the building. I’m particulary taken by the invigorating photo journal/plasticine re-enactment of a Canadian tree-planting holiday by Sarah Anne Johnson which is simply wonderful.

Guggenheim - but is it art?

Guggenheim - but is it art?

My first bus trip from Maddison up to Cathedral Parkway drops me conveniently outside Café Amrita for a bite and a pint of the local brew Sam Adams, which is a not at all bad IPA. Then I head to the 999 bar on Columbus and 106th where “Todd and friends” perform an accoustic folky set to a couple of dozen regulars. It’s a fun and quirky place that I spotted last night and vowed to visit. You can’t help but makes friends here and it’s great to talk with Kobi who is an actor. He has a key role in an upcoming Shakespeare production in the Upper East and bemoans the factory line of US model actors preferring the charismatic English set that are taking over Hollywood. His favourite actor is Alan Bates which is remarkable since Alan hails from Allestree, the suburb of Derby where I grew up. Small world. Speaking of small world the beers are served in Bass glasses and Bass is brewed 15 minutes drive from my house.

It’s been a long day and uptown has consumed all of my energy today so I bid farewell to Kobi, Lisa (Happy Birthday) and mad but impressive bartender Mel and walk home wondering if I can keep this up for another 8 days.

Read Full Post »

Today is the day. I don’t mean the election. My postal vote was in the greasy mits of John Snow a week ago. Today is the long awaited day I set out on a journey to unravel a myth.

There is a popular belief perpetrated by the media and backed up by a series of eye-witnesses of varying credibility that New York actually exists. It never occurred to me that this might be true – the facts as they are presented are a little hard to swallow, a bit like the moon landings – but 6 months ago I sat in bed with porridge and tea and booked today’s excursion via my netbook. I struggle with the notion that I can reserve a flight and hotel on the other side of the Atlantic from my bed (even with the aid of porridge) so I guess I’m starting to sound like a cynic but here I am writing this journal from a train on the same netbook and soon the truth will reveal itself. Of course if it turns out that there is no booking or no New York I then have to consider whether this is solely due to this morning’s absence of porridge. Is porridge the enabling factor?

I’m rambling. It’s what happens when you have 18 hours of travel time to try and mentally occupy. I love travel. It’s a place in itself. I don’t mean the head-down-got-to-get-to-work variety. I’m talking about the kind of expedition where you resign yourself to the pre-ordained schedule and drink in the surroundings. It’s a tune I will doubtless change once I’m 6 hours into a dull flight sat next to somebody I wish was in the baggage hold.

My pan-continental voyage started with a leisurely taxi ride to the train station. My driver was a charming middle aged Indian gentleman who spoke intelligently about today’s general election until he veered off into conspiracy theories, as demanded by his licence. Apparently the election result has already been decided by the CIA, FBI and (surprisingly) the FIA. It seems Bernie Ecclestone has a long reach indeed.

Not sick of travel yet

Not sick of travel yet

Plenty of time for a cappucino at the station. I’m served by Barry who hands me a weightless carton of milky froth – no liquid – with a misplaced smile of a job well done. Things will be different in Manhattan where they don’t stand for this kind of thing. My train arrives and that wonderfully English panorama of misty fields rolls by with calm certainty. I discover yet another compartment in my labyrinthine new rucsac. It’s a cross between Hogwarts and the Tardis and I can’t help wondering what other secrets it may yield in the coming week.

Virgin Voyage

Virgin Voyage

The flight – well it’s unremarkable. It amounts to a 7 hours cinema sitting with Virgin Atlantic’s video on demand. Sherlock Holmes turned out better than expected although the back-of-seat screen doesn’t exactly make for ideal viewing. On entry to the US the flight attendant issues a stern warning that any food brought into the country can result in a $10k fine. “Define food” I muse. The queue to customs is full of people stuffing their faces in order to avoid prosecution. Myself no exception. A gorgeous sunny day lifts my mood on the rail journey to Penn Station and I’m checked into my Upper West Side hotel overlooking the top corner of Central Park. It’s the culmination of a 16 hour journey and while my body clock tells me it’s midnight the clock says differently so I walk a few blocks in the warm darkening night air. People seem to just hang out on the street.

The 'hood

The 'hood


There’s a community basketball game, late night hairdressers and Korean takeaways every hundred yards. It’s sometimes loud and in your face but it feels safe.

Shootin Hoops

Shootin Hoops

That’s it. I’m dead beat. But it’s still too “early” to sleep so I find a channel with the BBC election coverage and try and stay entertained for another hour. Then a wonderful deep slumber, interrupted at 1:30pm by a lady who is trying to dial out from the hotel. The area code is 212 and my room number? You’ve guessed it. Is this what they mean by “The city that never sleeps”?

Read Full Post »