New York, 2010
Links and pics will be added later. This is just a brain dump.
So. I've recently had a few days in New York. This is my first visit to the US, and interestingly, my first time "abroad" where English was the first language.
FridayAs soon as I landed and was walking down the tunnel from the aeroplane to the airport, the first American voice I heard boomed out of speakers demanding that we were in a restricted area, and that we didn't use phones, or anything, and that we would have our phone confiscated if we did. A fine welcome, I thought.
Next, I had to wait for 1.5 hours to have my passport checked. There were about 4 people checking the small amount of US passports, and about 2 checking the much larger number of non-US passports.
However, this was pretty much the worst part of the holiday.
The first evening was basically catching a cab to the city, meeting my friend Leah who was showing me around, eating something (), and sleeping.
Because my body clock was 5 hours later in the day, I was awake at 4am. I tried to get back to sleep, but no joy. So we decided to walk around New York.
We stumbled accidentally across Ground Zero. It was on my list of "things to look at", but we just chanced across it. It's a lot smaller space than I'd imagined. There's a new tower going up in the corner, the Liberty tower.
Just around the corner from that was an amazing Amish deli. Had breakfast there, and watched the world go by. Delicious.
We then wandered around, basically making our way roughly up West Broadway, joining the Avenue of the Americas.
We came across a nice little park called Washington Park (apparently Washington was some famous guy in American history). 5th Avenue was next, and Leah was sure that some Woody Allen film had been filmed there.
As we were walking, we kept spying a tall building, and we both sort of thought it was the Empire State building, but it wasn't towering over us as much as we thought it would, so we weren't sure. We decided to walk towards it, and see what happened.
On the way to the maybe-Empire-State, Leah bought a blonde wig. She was going to meet up with some friends wearing it, and see what they thought.
It was the Empire State. Some guys outside tried to sell us tickets for a "4-D virtual tour" as well as special access that would eliminate 70% of the queuing times. We declined, and there pretty much weren't any queues.
There are lots of people dressed as bell-hops, who kindly guide you around miles of roped off paths.
You go up 80 floors in about 60 seconds. Your ears pop. Then you swap to another lift to get to the 86th floor.
It's cold, and windy, but the views are amazing. (Looking north towards Central Park)
How human beings can make such stuff, and how the bits at the bottom don't crush from all the weight above, I don't know. Apparently, they put up a floor every week.
We had paid the extra $15 each to to the 106th floor. To be honest, it wasn't really worth it. Everything looked just as small and far away as the 86th, and we were shut in a little room.
Still, it's (since 2001-09-11) the highest place in New York.
So, we were hungry. We walked north a little more, and ended up in a Chinese restaurant. (We flipped a coin for the Chinese, or the Indian next door).
The food was lovely, and although it was pretty empty when we arrived, by the time we left, it was packed with Chinese people - always a good sign. I can't remember what I had, but it was the hottest thing on the menu. The waiter was concerned that it would be too hot for me, but it wasn't. I've now graduated to buying my hot sauces from the Hot Sauce Emporium.
While we were there, someone Leah knows in New York came to meet us. He was very cagey about a top secret social-network-with-a-difference he was working on.
So, after the meal, we walked further up, and found Central Park. I was disappointed that there were roads running through the park, and it took a good bit of walking to get out of the sound of car noise.
There were lots of squirrels, and signs warning us about rabies. As we were walking, a large bird swooped down. It was some sort of hawk/eagle/pterodactyl. I started taking pics, but then worried that it might attack me, and fly off with me, even weighed down with Chinese meal as I was.
As we were discussing it, a woman came past, and said it must be injured, and started ringing the animal welfare people. They seemed to think she was over-reacting (which we did too), and then the bird flew away.
We then decided that the thing to do was to have some beers, and have something to eat, so we went into the first place that we found. We found a place called Uno's, which was on Columbus and W 81st Street. I tried the local American beers, and they were good. It was still a bit early to eat, so I tried to find something small to eat there, which was hard.
Leah's friend came back, and tried to make out he was as drunk as we were. He told us that this place was an annoying chain joint, and he'd take us somewhere better.
Which he did. I have no idea where we went, but it was this lovely little bar, down a few steps, that was obsessed with dogs and did really nice bar snacks. Oh, and actually hot spicy chicken dippers. I hate it when places say "hot and spicy", and aren't but this place was not lying. Again, the local beers were lovely.
As I was 5 hours ahead, I crashed out at about 11, 12pm (5am for me), and got a taxi back on my own.
SaturdaySo, on Saturday, we met up with Zeina, and she took us to an amazing little place in the Eastside.
I forget its name, but I had eggs salmon there. Eggs salmon, for those who don't know is muffins, with poached eggs and salmon on, with hollandaise sauce on the top. It is delicious. I don't know why I've not had it before. I washed it down with a mug of tea (yay!) and some mix of orange juice and champagne!
That afternoon, we went to our new hosts, Christa and Ben. They live in an amazing flat one road back from Wall Street, overlooking the Stock Exchange, right in the heart of the financial district.
They've got a lovely little boy called Xavier, who kindly gave up his room for a couple of nights.
We were told that the plan was to go to a Korean restaurant in the evening (really close to the eggs salmon place), get drunk, and go to a Karaoke place afterwards.
It sounded great.
However, we didn't think we'd last until the meal in the evening, so we "nipped out" to Les Halles (at which Leah squeaked with delight - I've not heard of the place, but it must be quite famous in the US). The food was excellent, as it generally was in New York. If you're a foodie, it's a great place to go - even better if some locals point you at the best spots.
Ben took us on a very good, personal guided tour of the financial district, Wall street, the stock exchange, and the Charging Bull. Apparently, it's obligatory for tourists to pose next to the bull's bull bits. Which we duly did.
So then it was time for the Korean restaurant.
I'm not very into seafood, and would normally have gone for something boring like pork with noodles, but I decided to try a load of stuff there. I declined the bull's penis, but among the things sampled were eel, squid, octopus, monkfish liver (blech), and other random things. Apart from the monkfish liver (like very slimey tunafish), most of it was not too bad.
Time for karaoke. Can't remember how we got there (assume a cab?). It was very different to karaoke in the UK. In the UK, it's generally Dave's Karaoke Disco, run at the local pub.
Here, it was a purpose built place, with various differently sized rooms that are available to hire.
We had one of the largest (there were quite a few people for this birthday party).
Beer was drunk, sake was drunk, and Ben produced a little bottle of the nicest rum I've ever tasted. I didn't sing - which is weird, as I sing snippets of songs from time to time out of the blue. Englishman in New York would have been the obvious choice.
Again, I started to flag, and me, Leah, and Christa went home, and left Ben there :)
SundayBen had got in much later (3am, maybe), Xavier had woken him up at 7.30 am, and he'd presumably had more to drink after we left, so he was feeling bad, but that didn't stop him rustling up a first class full English breakfast. What a star! :)
One of the reasons for not getting super drunk was that in the basement of the apartment building (which used to be a bank), behind huge bank-vault doors, there are pool tables, and a golf simulator, as well as gym, sauna, swimming pool, etc, and I didn't want to waste the opportunity to to test them out. Leah and I went to Brooklyn, found Dumbo (with a great view of the Manhattan skyline), and a good pub called Pub One, and ate an enormous burger (with Scotch bonnet peppers), before Leah went off to meet another person she knows (who didn't want to meet me). I like my pool, so I headed back to the flat, and knocked in a few hundred frames.
MondayMy flight time necessitated an early cab to the airport. I had heard bad things about the TSA (the security checkers at the airports), and there was talk on the local news of people refusing the Xray scanners as part of a protest, so I left very early to take no chances. (I had decided previously not to go in the Xray scanners if at all possible - for health, not privacy reasons).
Ben ordered me a car, but it didn't arrive on time, so I hailed a cab, and told him that I was running a little late, and if he could make up some time, that would be great.
He didn't understand a word I said, so I repeated it, but no luck.
I then made the mistake of saying "fast, fast". He understood that OK.
I checked into the flight and went through security in about 5 mins. The security was exactly the same as in all the other airports I've been to. Oh, except I had to take my shoes off, and some woman waved something over my hands, presumably looking for bomb residue.
I had 4 seats in my row to myself (on an otherwise pretty full plane), so I lay down, and slept most of the way back (something I'm never usually able to do on a plane).
Overall thoughts about NYC?
I loved it. A lot more than I thought I would.
It was still autumnal even towards the end of November, and the temperatures weren't that low either. Brisk, but not cold.
The people were amazing. They were a lot more friendly and laid back than I'd expected people in New York to be. I'd expected miserable grumpy people. Completely the opposite.
It's a very liberal place too, from what I could tell.
Oh, and I didn't get carded (asked for ID) once. I guess they can tell that I'm old and haggard just by looking at me.
Signs of New YorkOne thing did amaze/interest me though. The amount of signs there.
Most of them used lots of capital letters, and shouted "NO STANDING" at you, and various other things.
Quite a few had misspellings (can you spot this one?), and a lot of them were unnecessary, or off-putting.
For instance, you're sitting down in a bar/pub/restaurant, surveying the menu, and they helpfully remind you that if they don't cook it properly, you might die from eating the food:
"Consuming raw of under-cooked foods such as meat, fish and eggs, which may contain harmful bacteria, may cause serious illness or death." Think I'm kidding?
Then there are the signs that are just bizarre, especially the one extolling you not to curb your dog in the mews. That sounds like you're being told not to kick your dog in the doggy's danglies.
Oh, just one other thing. There are clever people in the US. Surely someone can design toilet cubicles that don't start two feet from the ground, and that don't have massive gaps around the side. I noticed it in quite a few places. I find it very offputting to be sat upon the porcelain throne, performing ones ceremonial duty, and be able to see other people outside (and for them to be able to see in).
I'm not alone in this.
Please fix this. KTHXBAI.