Day 1. New York City – here I come!

As my birthday falls during the Christmas holiday period it’s usual for me to receive Christmas / Birthday gifts rolled into one.  This can work well, especially when I open a parcel to find an Expedia booking reference tucked into the bow of a box of chocolates!   How wonderful,  a week’s holiday in New York, somewhere I’ve always yearned to visit but despite visiting the US numerous times, I’ve never made it to New York, that is, until now!

Baggage packed,  yesterday afternoon we took the train to London and enjoyed dinner out before heading to the Heathrow Central Travelodge for our overnight stay.  Our flight with United was scheduled for 10.20 am from Terminal 2 and as we were virtually on the doorstep we didn’t need to get up very early.   The flight departed on time, a  767-400 airliner and we were seated in seats 31A and 31B.  During the first half hour it was quite turbulent but afterwards the flight became smooth.

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Lunch on United flight to New York

Lunch was served around 90 minutes into the flight and this was reasonably good, the highlight being the tub of strawberry clotted cream ice cream served for dessert.  After the meal we settled back into our seats to watch a film.  I selected ‘The Intern’ starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway.  It turned out to be just my sort of film and as it was set in Brooklyn, set the tone for our holiday.

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New York Stock Exchange
The plane touched down in New York an hour ahead of schedule due to strong tail winds and we only had to queue for 15 minutes at Border Control.  After collecting our luggage we boarded the air train to the airport railway station where we bought tickets for the New Jersey Transit to Newark Penn ($8.50 each including the air train).  Using the card machine to purchase the tickets was a bit of a struggle though, when the ticket selection has been made the debit/credit card then needs to be ‘dipped’ into the card reader.  There is obviously a technique for doing this as our card came up with the error message ‘not recognised’ several times until it eventually worked.  It can’t be dipped too slow or too fast, but don’t worry if it happens to you, just keep trying.

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The Charging Bull, Wall Street
Other useful tips about purchasing tickets, when asked for your zip code, just enter 99999 if not from the US and for some reason only individual tickets can be purchased so one has to repeat the whole procedure for other travelling companions!

On arrival at Newark Penn we caught the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train to the World Trade Center.  Our dipping skills with the card machine were improving as the card was recognised at only our second attempt (fare $2.75 each).  We found this to be a relatively quick way into the city centre and as there was step free access at all points it eliminated the need to manoeuvre heavy suitcases on and off the subway system.

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Staten Island Ferry Terminal
Our hotel for the next seven nights was the  Club Quarters Hotel on William Street, just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.  We’d downloaded the New York map to our phones, enabling us to access it offline,  and making it easy to take the 10 minute walk from the World Trade Center.   It was 3.00 pm when we checked into our 8th floor room and after a quick coffee in the hotel’s club lounge we were ready to take our first look at the city.

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Manhattan waterfront
Our walk started on Wall Street, admiring the George Washington statue outside the Federal Hall, followed by the New York Stock Exchange and photos of the Charging Bull.  Continuing further we entered Bowling Green Park with the former Customs House at its centre and then crossed the road into Battery Park where we caught our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the distance.  We glanced inside the Staten Island ferry terminal leaving a ride on it for another day,  instead we strolled along the East River esplanade from where we had some good views of the Brooklyn skyline as the sun was setting.  The path continued to South Street seaport where we were able to view some historic ships and admire the Brooklyn Bridge which was illuminated at night.

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South Street Seaport
Feeling hungry we spotted a branch of Denny’s  on Nassau Street and warmed ourselves with soup and steak skewers.  Feeling refreshed we concluded our evening stroll with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pools which shimmered in the moonlight and touched our hearts when remembering that horrific day almost 15 years ago.

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9/11 Memorial Pool
We returned to the hotel and enjoyed mugs of cappuccino in the hotel’s lounge, unpacked our suitcases and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillow.
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Club Quarters lounge, New York

Distance walked: 10.1 miles.
 

 

 

 

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Day 2. Starting the day at Grand Central Station

Feeling a little jet lagged we were up at 6.00 am so we helped ourselves to complimentary cappuccinos in the hotel’s Club Lounge.  Sipping our drinks, we chatted with some flight crews staying in the hotel, from both American Airlines and Jet Blue, it was interesting to hear how they spent their free time between flights in the city.

Stepping outdoors, it was raining heavily so we dashed along to Denny’s diner, a ten minute walk away for breakfast.  We both ordered bacon and eggs followed by a short stack of pancakes.  We hadn’t anticipated the pancakes being so large and thick, and although delicious, I think we will need to scale down our breakfast orders in future mornings.

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New York Public Library
Located nearby was Brooklyn Bridge Subway Station so we each bought a 7 day unlimited metro card ($32 each incl $1 for the card).  This is excellent value as it’s possible to travel on the entire network as well as using buses if needed.  Unlike London,  everywhere is included in the same zone so passengers only need to swipe in and then just exit through the turnstiles on leaving stations.  The New York subway doesn’t use cards such as London’s Oyster or Hong Kong’s Octopus to tap in and out of stations, instead passengers need to swipe the metal strip of their metro card through the reader which is also a skill to be mastered, swipe it too fast or too slow and you will have to repeat the process until it let’s you through!.   Subway maps can be picked up from ticket kiosks but they are very large so we found it easier to use the online journey planner at mta.info as free wi-fi is available at the majority of stations.

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Ice Rink, Rockefeller Centre
Having bought our metro pass, we took the subway along to Grand Central Station  which was absolutely beautiful and how stations still should be today.   We arrived just before 9.00 am and at that time on a Sunday morning it was very quiet and perfect for taking photos.  We explored the lower level food court,  the minimalist Apple Store on the upper balcony,  and found a glass sided squash court in one corner where an international tournament was being staged.
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Grand Central Station

The rain had eased as we left the station, making our way towards Bryant Park  where the ice rink resembled a paddling pool due to the mild weather and overnight heavy downpours.  The Christmas lights outside the Lord & Taylor department store twinkled brightly as we walked along towards Times Square. 
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Times Square, New York City

The rainfall increased so we caught the subway over to the Rockefeller Centre where we could shelter from the rain whilst exploring the opulent interior.  Visiting the Lego store was fun and when the rain eased off, we paused to watch skaters on the ice rink.  Retracing our steps back to Times Square  we marvelled at the huge electronic billboards and the electronic ticker machines mounted on every available surface.  It was just as I had imagined it to be and I was happy to be a part of it.  Our photos were captured on one of the huge screens so we had our five seconds of fame, too!

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Transit Museum Christmas Model Rail Exhibition
Retracing our steps to Bryant Park we visited the New York Public Library which is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts marble structure building.  Unfortunately the huge, wood panelled Rose Main Reading Room was closed for long term renovation so we were unable to look in and admire this but we did have access to all other areas which we enjoyed.  Returning to Grand Central Station, we visited the Model Rail Exhibition in the Transit Museum annexe.  It’s held here each year over the extended festive period and admission is free.  Model trains pass alongside scale size replicas of the Empire State Building,  Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station etc. and both adults and children gazed in wonderment as the engines moved along the tracks.

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Dinosaur Gallery, American Museum of Natural History
We then hopped onto the subway to 79th Street (Upper West Side) where we had refreshing pots of tea in the Amsterdam Cafe before walking into Central Park.   Unfortunately, this was bad timing as torrential rain started to fall.  So, a quick change of plan resulted in a visit to the nearby American Museum of Natural History where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours viewing the Air and Space and Animal galleries, the Dinosaur galleries probably being our favourite   There are no set entrance fees to this museum, instead visitors pay what they wish.

On leaving the museum we were feeling very hungry so we decided to eat at a branch of Shake Shack that was nearby.  We’d heard good reports about this upscale burger bar and we had to agree, the food was delicious and just what we needed.    I had a Shake Stack (burger with portobello mushroom) whilst my travelling companion opted for the Smoke Stack (burger with smoked bacon).

Feeling tired, we returned to the hotel sitting awhile in the Club Lounge sipping coffee and watching television before bed.

Distance walked: 10.2 miles

 

 

Day 3. Visiting Liberty and Ellis Islands

Following breakfast in  Champs Gourmet Deli on Broad Street we headed towards Battery Park to the Ellis Island boat terminal.  Tickets cost $18 each from the kiosk at Castle Clinton and include a stop at Liberty Island on the way out.  There was only a short wait until the airline type security commenced at 9.00 am and we were able to board the first ferry of the day at 9.30 am.  It was a bright, sunny morning but icily cold, as we were wrapped up well, we braved the wind chill on the open upper deck so that we could appreciate the views.

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View of Manhattan from boat
Unfortunately, it became increasingly difficult to operate the camera shutter as our fingers became numb with the cold.   Most people were sitting on the lower decks to keep warm so this meant we could move round easily to take photos of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.

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Ellis Island Immigration Museum
As we were amongst the first passengers of the day we were also given tickets to access the Pedestal (top of the granite stone work of the Statue of Liberty) which was really nice and provided us with some excellent views.  Afterwards, we walked around the star shaped walls of Fort Wood where we obtained our best photographs of the statue,  Lady Liberty,  the symbol of freedom to the tens of thousands of immigrants who sailed past her on their way to starting a new life in America.   The seven spikes on Lady Liberty’s crown represent the seven continents of the world.  The statue was designed  by Gustave Eiffel who also designed the Eiffel Tower and was a gift from France in 1886.

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The Reception Room, Ellis Island Immigration Museum
After warming up briefly in the cafe and gift shop we boarded the next ferry to Ellis Island.   I found the visit here fascinating because my ancestors had passed through these very same doors during the summer of 1912 after travelling from Liverpool on board the SS Lusitania to embark on a new life in the United States.  The Ellis Island buildings were restored and converted into an Immigration Museum in 1990.  The museum, located in the former immigration station details the moving stories of the 12 million immigrants who entered through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. 
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The Statue of Liberty

On entering the ground floor we were taken back in time as this was the bustling Baggage Hall now containing exhibits of century old luggage and a gallery on the history of immigration to the United States.  To stave off hunger,  immigrants could purchase packs of food for 30 cents which included bread, cheese, sausage and lemonade.  Moving upstairs we entered the grandeur of the galleried Reception Room with its large arched windows and vast open spaces. Sadly, our ancestors did not view it like this, instead they often found it a confusing place where up to 5,000 immigrants each day had to shuffle along hard wooden benches of lengthy queues waiting to be individually interviewed by the inspector who checked their papers were in order before allowing them to leave the building.  Along the corridor was the Hearing Room, restored to how it would have been in 1911. Approximately 10% of immigrants attended appeals hearings to determine whether they could remain in the US or be deported.

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Central Park
The wind had dropped by the time we were ready to return on the ferry so it didn’t feel so cold sitting out on the upper deck taking in the stunning views.  Needing to thaw out, we called in to Champs Gourmet Deli again as it was nearby and enjoyed steaming bowls of Beef Barley soup which warmed us up nicely.

Afterwards, we took the Express subway to 72nd Street, I haven’t come across ‘Express’ underground trains before but they are ideal for moving quickly across the city, trains can be taken to the nearest Express stop to your destination and then a Local line train can be used as required.   We  walked into Central Park through the entrance gate near the American Museum of Natural History and took the Ramble path, passing the boating lake, Loeb Boathouse Cafe, Bow Bridge and the Bethesda Fountain (this had been drained for the winter).  We came across the delightful Alice in Wonderland statue before leaving the park at its south east corner onto 5th Avenue.  There is an Apple Store here with a large, minimalist glass box entrance and, walking further we came across many designer stores and the Trump Tower where we took a look inside.  Outdoors again, we felt the chill so popped into Genies Cafe just off Madison Avenue for a hot chocolate each.  More strolling around the high end stores followed before taking the subway to 8th Street /NYU for dinner at  Mighty Quinn’s a barbecue diner, where we feasted on plates of half chicken, chips and salad.

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George Washington Square
To walk off our dinner we continued a little further along the road and came to Washington Square with its large arch and Christmas tree lights still twinkling beautifully in the night sky (a bonus as it was three days after 12th night).  We explored the area around New York University before returning to the hotel by subway.  Sitting in the Club Lounge we enjoyed complimentary hot drinks and a selection of nibbles (M & Ms, nuts, wasabi peas, etc) whilst watching television.
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Complimentary drinks and nibbles in the Club Quarters Lounge

Distance walked:  11.4 miles

Day 4. Exploring Brooklyn, Little Italy and Chinatown

After coffee and fresh fruit in the hotel we headed to the nearby Champs Deli and enjoyed a ‘two egg sandwich sunny side up’.  This is essentially two fried eggs in a freshly baked sesame topped roll, it tastes delicious but is incredibly messy to eat with egg yolk oozing out constantly, lots of serviettes needed.

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The New York Subway

Breakfast completed, we took the subway to Clark Street then walked around Brooklyn Heights which was a pleasant neighbourhood with many brownstone buildings with wrought iron balustrades.  Continuing on to  DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) we strolled along the promenade in Brooklyn Bridge Park where there are splendid views looking back towards Manhattan.  Heading inland, we walked along Pierrepoint as far as Brooklyn Borough Hall admiring more of the brown stone architecture.  Next followed a hop on the subway to  Prospect Park which is Brooklyn’s urban park and was, in fact, designed by the same person as Central Park.

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Walking through the park we noticed that the lake was partially frozen,  and a little further we came to the large ice rink where we paused to watch a few people skating.  We left the park at Parkside Avenue, it had been our intention to stop off for a coffee here but it didn’t seem the best of areas so we took the subway to High Street so that we could take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
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View across Brooklyn Bridge

The entrance to the bridge walkway is signposted from this station (south side of Brooklyn Bridge promenade) exit.  We chose to cross in this direction so that we could take full advantage of the Manhattan skyline views without constantly needing to look back.  It’s a very safe and easy stroll across the bridge and as you don’t feel to be very high (with the road below you) I doubt it would be a problem for those with a fear of heights.  There were very few people walking across the bridge on this January day so we were able to pause for photos whenever we wished.    We warmed up afterwards with bowls of soup in a nearby cafe.
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Walking across Brooklyn Bridge

After lunch we returned to New York’s financial district to visit the Federal Hall with the statue of George Washington at its entrance.  It’s free to enter the Hall, a grand building.  As a national monument, its run by the National Parks who have an informative visitor centre and small shop there.   Just around the corner stands the Wall Street Trinity Episcopal Church which was visited by the Queen and Prince Philip in 1976.

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Little Italy
Another short ride on the subway took us to 23rd Street / Little Italy.   As expected, it’s mostly a collection of Italian restaurants and pizzerias located between Mulberry and Mott streets.  Chinatown merges into Little Italy and we looked in an indoor food market similar to those found in South East Asia and wandered past street stalls bursting with colour from spices and exotic vegetables.  Returning to Borough Hall we took the subway to 33rd street and found a small cafe called Gigi’s where we warmed up once again with mugs of hot chocolate before exploring the foyer of the Empire State Building which was nearby.    Along the road we came to Herald Square home to Macy’s which claims to be the world’s largest department store.

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Chinatown
After glancing around several floors we left feeling a little disappointed,  I think we had expectations of it being a high end store something on the lines of Harrods in London but that wasn’t the case.  We did, however, enjoy riding on the old wooden escalators which serve the upper floors.

Continuing further,  we wandered along to Times Square to view it after dark seeing all the electronic billboards and ticker tape lighting up the night sky.  It was crowded but this added to the atmosphere of experiencing Times Square for ourselves.  It felt perfectly safe and it was reassuring to see so many NYPD police officers on every corner.

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Times Square at night
After taking the subway along to 8th Street/NYU, we found an attractive pizzeria for a well earned rest and dinner.  Back at the hotel, we relaxed  in the hotel’s club lounge on a comfortable sofa, watching Obama deliver his State of the Union Address whilst enjoying late night drinks and nibbles.

Distance walked:  14.5 miles  (I knew before I checked my phone app that it had been a long way today, my little feet were aching!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5. Riding the Roosevelt Tramway and walking the High Line

Following breakfast in Champs Deli we took the subway to the Upper East Side to ride the aerial tramway across the East River to Roosevelt Island.  The tramway is actually a cable car carrying up to 110 passengers every 15 minutes and the journey is included in the Metro pass.  The tramway reaches a height of 76 metres following the route of the Queensboro Bridge.

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The Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
At around 9.00 am when we boarded, the cable car was almost deserted as commuters were travelling into town from the Roosevelt side,  this extra space made taking photos much easier.
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Franklyn Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

Strolling through Franklin Rooseveldt Four Freedoms Park we enjoyed good views across to Manhattan and apart from the occasional dog walker, we had the park to ourselves.  We came across the former Renwick Smallpox Hospital in the nearby Southview Park,  it’s now in ruins and designated a New York City landmark. After riding the cable car back across the river we took a look inside Bloomingales department store and preferred shopping here to our recent visit to Macy’s.
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Former Renwick Smallpox Hospital

Finishing shopping, we headed to Hudson Yards by subway, this is the newest station on the New York subway system, only opening its doors in September 2015.  The reason for coming here was to walk the  High Line.  This is an elevated,  disused freight rail line now transformed into an urban park and walkway running from West 34th Street to Gansevoort Street in the Meat Packing District,  a distance of 1.45 miles.

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Walking the High Line
It was bright and sunny but bitterly cold as we strolled along the elevated walkway which has been attractively laid out with wooden seats,  raised flower beds and art work,  the path winding its way between the high rise buildings and bordering the Hudson River at its start.  There are access points at varying intervals, some with lift access.  We stopped off at  Chelsea Market where we warmed up with mugs of hot chocolate before looking in the small but interesting shops within the market.  It’s not a ‘market’ as such,  but rather a collection of small boutiques, craft shops, bookstores, and deli’s.    Leaving the market from the far exit we came across the offices of Google and walked along smart tree lined roads of historic terraced houses.  Rejoining the High Line,  we continued the short distance to its end in the Meat Packing district.
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Walking the High Line

It had been our plan to eat lunch in Gansevoort Market  but as we had only just had a snack in the nearby Chelsea Market, we just looked around instead.  Again, a very attractive setting with mostly deli type eateries.   Exploring further on foot we ate lunch in a delightful cafe tucked away on Jane Street and then took the subway to Union Square where we spotted a branch of Marimekko, the Finnish retailer.  Noticing the Flatiron building on the corner we paused to take photographs, I just loved the shape and beauty of this building when viewed from an angle.

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Flatiron Building
From here we were also able to view the Empire State Building and the landmark Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower with a handsome clock face on each of its sides.

Returning to our hotel late afternoon we found various film crew vans parked outside filming in the building opposite.   After a short rest and a welcome coffee in the Club Lounge we raised the energy to walk along to the South Ferry terminal where we boarded the 6.00 pm  Staten Island Ferry.  This ferry is completely free and passengers do not need to possess a Metro card to travel on it.  The journey takes 25 minutes to the Whitehall ferry terminal on Staten Island.  For passengers wishing to return aboard the same ferry it is necessary to disembark and walk through the waiting room to return. 

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Riding on a very quiet Staten Island Ferry

Our outward crossing was busy with commuters but we had no difficulty finding seats and on our return to Manhattan it was almost empty affording us good night time photo opportunities of both the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.   For the best views remember to sit on the right hand side of the ferry when travelling towards Staten Island and on the left for the return journey,  the ferry being double ended and therefore it does not turn round.

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Night view from the Staten Island Ferry
Leaving the ferry we took the subway to Court Street over in Brooklyn where we walked down to the DUMBO district (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) where we tucked into delicious burgers at Shake Shack .  This branch, overlooking Brooklyn Bridge was much nicer than the one near the American Museum of Natural History.   The interior is created from reclaimed wooden factory beams from the local neighbourhood and a corner fireplace made it warm and cosy on a cold January evening.   We returned to the hotel feeling tired after another fun day exploring New York.

Distance walked:  11.5 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6. Exploring Harlem and Queens

Our guidebook indicated that a visit to Harlem’s 135th Street to view the historic houses on Shrivers Row was worth seeing.   The houses were indeed attractive, but to be honest there wasn’t very much else to see apart from the Apollo Theatre and The Cathedral of St John the Divine,  so we continued walking until we reached Morningside Heights, a district between the Upper West Side and Harlem,  the home of Columbia University founded in 1754. 

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Brownstone terraced houses of Haarlem

This was an affluent neighbourhood with some architectural gems so I would suggest missing out Harlem and heading straight here instead.  We explored the beautiful university campus with its grand old buildings standing proud overlooking neatly manicured lawns.
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Columbia University, New York City

Located nearby is the monumental neo-gothic Riverside Church that resembles a cathedral and overlooks the General Grant National Memorial, both are worthy of a visit.  Grant’s Tomb is maintained by the National Parks Service and admission to the elaborate memorial is free, located in a beautiful riverside setting.

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General Grant National Memorial, Morningside Heights
Another short subway journey took us to Columbus Circle where we looked round the Times Warner Centre which was filled with high end designer shops with a Whole Foods supermarket in the basement.    Just along the road lies the huge  Lincoln Centre, home to the New York Ballet, Philharmonic, Opera and several other performing arts theatres. 
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New York subway art

After a quick look around some of the modernist buildings we headed off to Grand Central Station’s lower level to eat.  I’d heard that Junior’s Cheesecakes were legendary and being very fond of this dessert we had to try one.  The cafe had both a takeaway counter and full service restaurant so we opted for the latter.  We ordered slices of our favourite New York style cheesecake along with drinks.   These arrived on paper plates, with plastic spoons and glasses – not what we were expecting at all!  Yes, the cheesecake was creamy with a deep filling but it wasn’t any nicer than the ones I buy at home from my local Waitrose, so I have to admit that Junior’s was a bit of a let down!   What was to follow wasn’t though……..

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Road sign
The two weeks before our trip were spent avidly reading guidebooks and New York travel blogs to help us to make the most of our stay.  One of the blogs that we found extremely interesting and informative was Finding NYC  and in a comment,  I’d indicated that we were visiting soon.  To my utter surprise we received an invitation to spend part of a day with the author, viewing NYC from the perspective of a local!   We felt unsure at first,  it’s a very different experience meeting bloggers in real life rather than through the safety of the virtual world and I’d never started blogging with the intention of ever meeting anyone in person.   But,  somehow,  this seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, so throwing caution to the wind,  it was agreed that we would meet outside the Court Square subway station in Long Island City, Queens at 3.00 pm   We all arrived promptly, and after greeting each other, we were taken to the Rockaway Brewing Company  a few blocks away.

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Rockaway Brewing Company
 In the intimate atmosphere of the cosy bar we were able to get to know each other and also learn a little about micro brewing techniques!  The beer tasted absolutely delicious, we were served ”taster flights’ of hand crafted beers, along with packets of Cape Cod kettle crisps. 
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Taster flights of beer at Rockaway Brewing Company

The small bar was very different to what we are accustomed to in the UK,  but we loved it, chatting to the bar manager,  our new blogging friend Susan and another local lady about everything from Downton Abbey to dogs.   In the intimate, cosy atmosphere we were really made to feel welcome!
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The iconic Pepsi Cola sign in Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens

Then it was off to watch the sun set on the waterfront in the nearby Gantry Plaza State Park  along with some amazing views of the midtown Manhattan skyline.  Susan pointed out the 37m long iconic Pepsi Cola sign that had been moved from a bottling plant to be preserved in the park along with some Long Island gantry cranes which were all very interesting to see.
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Long Island Gantry Cranes, Queens

The final part of our mini adventure was a subway ride to the Lower East Side and dinner at a little neighbourhood restaurant called  Pies ‘n Thighs serving southern comfort food.  We found a cosy corner table and feasted on sweet/savoury dishes of chicken with waffles, cranberries and maple syrup and a ‘chicken biscuit’ which was a chicken fillet in a scone, strange combinations but utterly delicious and extremely filling, it’s just as well we’ve been walking so much this week!  All this was such fun, our blogging friend was lovely and so kind to have taken the time to organise this three part treat for us, living the life of local New Yorkers for a few hours at least.  We parted, having hopefully made a friend for life,  and do so hope that we can return the favour one day soon by showing Susan and her travelling companion some of what England has to offer.

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Dinner at Pies ‘n Thighs
If you would like to read Susan’s version of events do take a look at her post ‘Dinner with new friends at Pies ‘n Thighs’ here.

 

Distance walked:  5.73 miles

 

 

Day 7. Greenwich Village, The Cloisters and more

First on our list this morning was a subway ride to tthe Williamsburg district of Brooklyn,  a hipster district centred on Bedford Avenue, and home to artists and students.  There’s none of the glitz of Manhattan here, instead low rise apartments and small, suburban shops along tree lined avenues.

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View of Manhattan from the East River State Park
There wasn’t too much for us to see yet it provided us with an opportunity to observe day to day local life in this New York suburb.  We wandered down to the water and had a pleasant stroll through the East River State Park before moving on to Union Square to find the Strand Bookstore  two blocks away on Fulton Street.  If time had allowed I could have happily spent all morning in here,  family owned since opening in 1927, it has 2.5 million new, used and rare books said to cover an area of 18 miles if spread end to end!  Staff are knowledeable,  bookshelves line floor to ceiling and assistants climb step ladders to access out of reach volumes for customers to peruse.

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Greenwich Village
Leaving the bookstore we continued on foot to Washington Square to see how the arch looked in daylight and without its Christmas tree from earlier in the week.  Pressing on, we crossed Sheridan Square towards  Greenwich Village.  We loved the vibe of this bohemian leafy neighbourhood with its angled streets filled with upscale boutiques, endless coffee shops and wine bars stretching out along Bleeker Street.  We sipped cappuccino’s sitting in the window of Amy’s Bread watching life pass by outdoors.  A fire engine stopped briefly outside the cafe and we noticed a plaque  ‘In memory of our brothers ………. (5 names) 9/11, Ladder 36, Little Italy’.   It really touched my heart reading this,  but how beautiful to have a memorial plaque on the side of the vehicle from the station of those affected.

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The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The roads in Greenwich follow the historic pathways of the early Dutch settlers before the grid system was introduced for the rest of the ciity so here you can walk along gently curving avenues adding to its charm.  Continuing,  we walked through West Village into SoHo (South of Houston Street) which was also attractive,  then took the subway back to the hotel for a short rest.

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Interior of The Cloisters Museum
Feeling refreshed, we were ready for more sightseeing so it was back on the subway out to Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, home to The Cloisters,  an annexe of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.   It was a pleasant but fairly steep 15 minute walk up to the museum through the park but shuttle buses are available if desired.  Entrance is by ‘pay what you wish’ and the ticket also allows entrance into the main MET museum which we planned on visiting later.  As well as viewing the church like artefacts, the building itself is absolutely stunning with its stained glass windows, and it feels as if you have been transported back in time walking through marble pillared cloisters adorned with plants and stepping out onto the wide terrace overlooking the museum gardens and Hudson river.

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Central Park at dusk
Leaving The Cloisters, we then headed along to Central Park (96th St W) to take some photos just as it was going dark.  Walking alongside the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir (renamed in her honour in 1994 as she enjoyed jogging along its paths) there were splendid views of the nighttime Manhattan skyline.  Continuing, we passed the Baseball playing fields, Belvedere Castle and the Turtle Pond which was frozen over in places.

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Entrance foyer of the MET
Near the park lies the main building of the  Metropolitan Museum of Art and on Friday’s it stays open until 9.00 pm allowing us plenty of time to explore several galleries in this most beautiful of buildings. We especially liked the reconstructed Wall St. bank facade and the sections on furniture, but, of course, the MET is vast and it would be impossible to see everything in one visit o hopefully we’ll be able to return one day.

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Facade of Wall Street wall
We were feeling hungry and in need of a rest so jumped on the subway and headed back to our favourite Shake Shack in the DUMBO district.  We thought it might be crowded being 8.30 pm on a Friday night but it was fairly quiet and we even found a window table overlooking the twinkling lights of Brooklyn Bridge to enjoy our juicy burger and fries.

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Walking across Brooklyn Bridge at night
The original plan had been to head straight back to the hotel after dinner but seeing the bridge illuminated and looking so attractive we felt the urge to walk across once more for a night time experience.  It was very cold but we were warmly wrapped up with scarves, hats and gloves and we so enjoyed walking across at night, mesmerised by the lights of Manhattan and of the car headlights.   Completing the bridge walk we returned to the hotel by subway for a well earned drink!

Distance walked:  15.4 miles (new record!)

 

 

 

Day 8. Our final day in New York

It was time to pack our belongings after breakfast and after leaving them at the hotel to collect later, it was off for our final day of sightseeing.  We started off by walking along the waterfront in Battery Park for one last time then at 10.00 am as the Museum of American Indians opened its doors in the nearby Bowling Green Park, we took a look inside.

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National Museum of American Indians
It’s free to enter and is part of the Smithsonian Institution,  has three interesting galleries, what we liked most though was the actual building.  It’s the former Customs House where ship captains had to come and pay their landing dues on arrival in port.  The opulent circular entrance hall with its marble pillars retains its huge mahogany counter and domed ceiling.

Opulent Entrance Hall
From here,  we took the subway over to Brooklyn.  A week ago when we first started using the subway I found the stations to be utilitarian, functional spaces with white tiling and metal girders but as the week progressed my views changed,  looking closely each station has its own individuality.   Mosaic tiles are embedded into the walls in the design of station names, murals, animals etc. and it’s fun to spot this subway art passing between platforms and exits.

As we’ve so enjoyed riding the New York subway we thought it was only fitting to end the week with a visit to the New York Transit Museum based in the disused Court Street subway station in Brooklyn.

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Entrance to the New York Transit Museum
It costs $7 to enter and is worth every cent, what fun we had!  Located on two floors, the upper level contains a section on how the New York subway system was constructed with some interactive displays.  Then there are turnstiles from the opening of the subway in 1904 to those in use today which can be walked through, plus fare collection systems from cash, tokens and vending machines whilst art nouveau transit posters line the walls.

Old style subway turnstiles
‘Bringing back the city’  an exhibition detailing how the New York transit copes in times of crisis was extremely interesting. One section related to weather, in particular the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and another on the terrorist attacks of 9/11 demonstrating the resourcefulness, resilience and heroics of transit workers and how quickly they were able to get the public transport running and the city back to normal again.  The lower platform level contains a selection of subway engines and carriages from 1904  to those in use today and we enjoyed climbing on board and exploring the modifications over time.  There is also a fully functioning signal box  / control room which was used when this was a functioning station.

New York Transit Museum

Leaving here, we headed to the nearby active subway station and sped along to Central Park for our third and final visit of the week.  Today’s visit was to take a look at the ice rink as we hadn’t seen this till now.  It was lovely to stand on the bridge and watch the skaters with the backdrop of skyscrapers, we were even tempted to take to the ice ourselves, but we didn’t really have enough time.

Next followed dinner at Denny’s on Nassau Street just a short walk from our hotel where we returned for a coffee and to collect our luggage before heading back to Newark Liberty airport for our 10.30 pm flight back to London Heathrow.

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Dinner on United Airlines flight

 
After a meal on board the aircraft and a couple of glasses of wine we were soon asleep almost until our arrival at Heathrow the next morning.

Distance walked:   9.6 miles

Total distance walked for the week:  87.5 miles

 

Our week long New York adventure has come to an end and we have returned home with so many happy memories, we loved every minute of the trip.  Our hotel Club Quarters just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange was extremely good and we would certainly consider staying there again on a future visit.  Visiting in early January meant that we had the city mostly to ourselves, the weather was cold yet bright and sunny apart from heavy downpours on the first morning.

Just to dispel a few myths :

  • New York is a perfectly safe city to wander around in, both day and late evening, probably more so than some European cities we have visited
  • Riding the subway is also safe, we used it widely, both at rush hour and at quieter times and we felt completely at ease
  • New Yorkers are helpful and courteous. Travelling independently, we spoke mostly with locals rather than tourists and we never came across one arrogant or rude person