PART 2 – FRIDAY 1ST JUNE 2012
Not a bad night, all things considered (I usually take a few days to settle into a new environment, especially combined with jetlag). The huge bed was extremely comfortable, although it took me a bit of searching to find Amanda! The high floor choice was definitely a good move, as it was not at all noisy (just a few ‘noises’, as you expect in a city the size of New York) and absolutely no disturbance from the hotel or other guests, even though our door is only a few yards from the elevators. I turned the air-con off pretty soon after we went to bed, as it’s truly not that hot, and we don’t like the way it dries you out.
It’s 4:30am when I/we wake up, and I flick the TV on to check the weather while making a coffee (large filter ‘pods’ provided gratis every day by the hotel). We picnic on the muffins purchased last night and watch the local (NBC) news, which is based in the Rockefeller Centre just round the corner.
Weather looks pretty good today, already around mid-60s and predicted to hit the top 70s or early 80s. The plan is to ‘do’ Chelsea today, specifically the High Line, one of Manhattan’s newest public spaces: http://www.thehighline.org/about/park-information
We shower and pack our basics for the day, and leave the hotel around 6:20am. It’s comfortable in T-shirts, and we head down 8th Avenue, aiming to hit the northern end of the High Line as it opens at 7:00am.The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. It is now the non-profit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.
The High Line is located on Manhattan's West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. The first section of the High Line opened on June 9, 2009. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.
The streets are getting busier with commuters. Our route takes us past Madison Square Garden and the cross streets afford distant views of iconic buildings including the Empire State Building.
Our timing is pretty good, and we arrive at the bottom of the entrance steps a few minutes before 7:00am. The surrounding area is a mix of old industrial and commercial buildings, contrasting starkly with the crisp, renovated finish of the steelwork and plantings on the High Line.
The gates are opened bang on 7 o’clock, and we climb the steel staircase to the start of the park. There is also an elevator for anyone of limited mobility.
The park covers about 18 blocks, and we take our time wandering the full length down towards Chelsea Village, enjoying the place pretty much to ourselves this early in the day. Only a few joggers and one or two other walkers are in evidence.
Having read up on the High Line we had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but as is often the case, these expectations were exceeded. It is a genuinely amazing construct, retaining the flavour and engineering of the original elevated railway, yet undoubtedly presenting as a true (if somewhat linear) park! We love it!
The walking surfaces are formed from attractive concrete slabs, which are cast to represent the train rails (some of which are retained and featured in the pathways and in the planted beds). There are ample places to sit and enjoy the views, including conventional bench seating and others that seem to sprout from the concrete paths.
All of the planted areas are lovely, and include occasional art installations, both physical sculptures and sound. The route passes hard up against and even through some of the surrounding buildings, allowing voyeuristic peeks into yards and rooms.
Some of the occupants have had a bit of fun and joined the party – this is ‘The High Line Zoo!’
Every now and again you get a glimpse of the Hudson River a few blocks west.
Closer to the bottom end there are some delightful day beds, shady now, but will be wonderful later in the day. A large covered area below one of the buildings creates a retail area where (on a subsequent visit, at a later time of day) we discover food stalls and art sales.
All too soon we reach the bottom end at Gansevoort Street, the official start of the Park, with useful information displays and where a large construction project is underway, to create a new headquarters building for the park.
We descend the steps and take in our surroundings. It’s 7:45 and we’re a bit peckish, so walk across to Hudson Street, heading south into the West Village area looking for a suitable venue.
Dismissing a couple of options as a bit ‘fancy’ for our tastes, we come across the Hudson Diner, a simple looking place with checked table cloths, and, more importantly, lots of customers! Always a good sign. In we go, and are seated in the window without a wait.
We order coffee, orange juice and breakfast platters. The juice (freshly squeezed) and coffee (strong) arrive quickly. Our platters aren’t much longer, and are delicious! As we eat, the café fills up virtually completely, and apart from us, everyone else appears to be a local.
And the price for this bounty? $15.30! We leave a $3 tip, visit the restroom, and are back on the street (in a non-prostitute sense of the word) by 8.30.
I bought some New York walking tour cards on impulse a few weeks ago, and we use some of them now to get a sense of the surrounding streets and points of interest.
Our general focus is the West and Greenwich Village areas, and takes in the Stonewall Inn, where the gay lib movement started in 1969, and the tiny Christopher Park nearby which contains statues honouring those involved.
We follow Christopher Street east to Greenwich Avenue, and then back on ourselves along West 10th Street, enjoying the pretty, tree-lined sidewalks, bonny shops and cafes.
A lot of meandering about finds us heading south again, along 8th, and onto Bleecker Street. The upper part of Bleecker is predominantly boutiques, but as it crosses 7th it becomes more ‘foody’. Pity we’re not hungry yet!!
Towards the bottom end of Bleecker, at Carmine Street, we rest for a bit in a pretty little square. It’s only 9:15, but already starting to feel hot rather than just warm!
The coffee and orange juice are working through, and we cross over Thompson Street to Washington Square Park, where there ought to be public restrooms (a fairly scarce commodity in this and most other large cities it seems. We often end up purchasing drinks in order to use a café or bar’s toilets – kinda self-defeating really!
The Park looks a bit more ‘kempt’ than it did 6 years ago, but there are quiet a few homeless types lying around or sitting in groups. We find the restrooms in a corner. I don’t bother washing my hands, due to the only sink in the place being used for a strip bath by a naked, and exceptionally dirty, homeless dude!!!
Apart from the general unwashed, a few families are out, playing with their kids and there is a large guided tour part being instructed about the history of the Arch. We pass through it, and find ourselves at the very bottom of 5th Avenue. Our guide cards tell us that just ahead, on the right, is Washington Mews, a private, gated street of 19th century former stable dwellings.
Although there is some renovation underway, it’s an attractive little street, quite at odds with the adjacent skyscrapers on 5th. This is one of our favourite things in New York, the contrast between old and new, Gothic and glass towers.
We continue north along 5th,
….towards Madison Square Park, and the amazing Flatiron (officially, ‘Fuller’) Building. This is one of the City’s most famous and most-photographed structures, and when built, in 1902, it was truly innovative: one of the first steel-skeleton skyscrapers, allowing it’s at the time incredible height of 22 stories, and at 285 feet, one of the City’s highest towers.
We rest up in Madison Square Park for a while. It feels both larger and better presented than the last time we saw it, and we suspect it has been refurbished in the intervening 6 years. Some of the residents are playing with their nuts.
Crossing the busy junction in front of the Flatiron again, we turn west next, along W23rd Street, heading back towards Chelsea.
The route takes us past the historic Chelsea Hotel (of Arthur C. Clarke, Dylan Thomas (and many others) fame, and where Sid Vicious (probably) stabbed his girlfriend to death in 1978.) Sadly this listed building is currently swathed in scaffolding, having been closed to new residents in 2011 when it was sold to a developer. Whether or not it will be refurbished and reopened as a Hotel or as apartments remains to be seen – many long-term residents remain, due to having city-protected tenancies, and the refurbishments and disturbance so far has been quite controversial.
Upon reaching reach 9th Avenue we turn and head south as far as 22nd, 21st and 20th Streets, which we wander up and down, admiring the gorgeous townhouses and apartment buildings fronted by attractive, railed forecourt gardens.
We return to 9th and carry on south for another 5 blocks or so, to Chelsea Market. This is a delightful, urban food hall and retail complex, located in the converted factory originally built for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), and is, wait for it, the place where the Oreo Cookie (yuk!) was invented!!
Once again we have found ourselves in a gastronomic paradise at a time when we are not hungry! Damn that fine breakfast!
It’s only 11.15am Reluctantly we leave the Market, and return to the start of the High Line at Gansevoort Street for another fix of this lovely park.
It’s a lot busier now, and with the sun higher in the sky, has a different bustle and air about it. We walk the first block or so, happy, before encountering a security guard who informs us that the next section is closed due to ‘cleaning up after a little accident’. She tells us that we can drop down to the street, walk north to another entry point and rejoin. A bit disappointed, we follow this advice. However, when we reach the closed section at street level, we discover a major incident team below the Highline. There are several NYPD vehicles, an ambulance and two fire engines, and it appears that someone has jumped or fallen from the Park onto the cobbled street some 25 feet below! Ouch…
This diminishes our appetite for finishing the walk, but as it will soon be lunchtime, we decide to extend the walk northwards, and tick off another of our must-do’s by having a meal at the Oyster Bar below Grand Central.
Off we trot. One of the notices outside a legal office makes us smile..
We stop at one of the numerous Duane Reade outlets to buy some water (59 cents!), lip balm and plasters (for Amanda’s feet – she has developed a hot-spot under a sandal strap and wants to nip it in the bud before it becomes a full-fledged blister).
We cross the busy Avenues at 15th Street level, until we reach 5th again, and head north, taking the obligatory photo outside New York Central Library.
We will make a point of revisiting this imposing building later in the trip. At East42nd Street we turn right, to the main entrance for Grand Central. This presents an un-missable photo opportunity, with the Chrysler Building towering behind.
It’s 12:30 as we make or way into the Station…
…and down to the Dining Concourse. We ‘restroom’ before entering the Oyster Bar, which although bustling, is large enough to allow us to be seated without a wait.
A friendly waiter brings bread and still water, and takes our drinks order – Brooklyn Summer Ale for me, Sauv Blanc for Mrs J.
The menu is VAST! We are both seafood fanatics, and almost everything appeals. Sigh. So many choices, so little space in our stomachs. We settle on 6 oysters each (I wish I’d only had 5, as things turn out, but that tale can wait a while, as we’re about to eat!) followed by Bouillabaisse for Amanda and I order extra large, grilled scallops with an oriental dressing.
The oysters arrive and are glorious – meaty and tender, and very sweet. Yum! We get outside them in short order!
Amanda’s ‘soup’ arrives, and appears to comprise of a whole lobster having a cosy, fish-stock bath with about a dozen clams, mussels and slabs of white and dark fish fillet! I can see she is wondering how the hell she’s going to eat this without being liberally covered in shellfish, when the waiter offers her an Oyster Bar bib! Clearly this is a common problem for the better-dressed clients!
My scallops are sensational. The texture is perfect – I think the chef might have cooked these before!
The waiter offers us dessert, but we laugh in his face! Just where the heck do you think we would put it, kind sir?? We ask for the check, which at $120 we think is neither cheap nor expensive for the quality of the meal and surroundings.
We walk back up into the main concourse, hoping to find a WiFi network. I am supposed to call the River Café today to confirm our Internet reservation, but forgot to bring the phone number out with us. The WiFi is a bit useless, so we use a payphone directory enquiry service (75 cents) to get it and try to call. Frustratingly the call does not connect, repeatedly, so I make do with sending an email from my phone.
Leaving Grand Central we cross Madison to 5th and enter St Patrick’s Cathedral. This is an inspiring church, and feels much older than it actually is (construction started in 1858, and the Cathedral opened for business only 21 years later in 1879. Laughably, now, at any rate, the Archbishop (Hughes) who commissioned the building, was at the time widely ridiculed for siting it too far outside the city! Hmm. That sorted itself out ok then!)
It is a building of balance and power, and we wander the towering interior for a while. There is a definite ‘Tardis’ effect at play, because it feels enormous inside, but is dwarfed by its modern neighbours outside.
Right, what next? Well, it’s nearly 3.00pm, and as we’ve been walking for much of the last 8 or 9 hours, we decide to go for a walk! On our first NY trip we visited the Guggenheim, high up on 5th, and loved it, but sadly at the time the amazing ziggurat exterior was hidden from view by swathes of scaffolding and sheeting. As one of Amanda’s favourite buildings, we always planned to walk past it at some point this trip, to view and photograph the exterior. No time like the present then – we set off north. The weather has softened a bit since lunch, and is now becoming overcast, although still warm.
We had forgotten just how far up 5th the Museum actually is! It’s about 2 miles, past the Central Park Zoo (didn’t see Alex the Lion anywhere!!) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art…
…and takes us around 40 minutes to reach. Having taken the requisite piccies,
…we turn into Central Park at the Reservoir,
….and stroll happily south in a meandering fashion, as intended by the designers, Olmstead and Vaux. The weather has improved again and the sun pops out periodically. The next hour’s wandering takes us over The Great Lawn, where little leaguers are at play…
… past Belvedere Castle and The Lake, with it’s numerous resident turtles…
…..to Bow Bridge…
… and eventually to Bethesda Terrace where, weary, we sit down on a bench to rest. It is once again dull, but pleasantly warm.
I have been feeling a bit ‘odd’ for the last hour or so, but put this down to fatigue and the sunshine. However, I now start to feel increasingly queasy and begin to suspect that one of my lunch oysters might have been off. Let’s head home.
Along the way we come across a film crew making what looks like an episode of The Muppets!
The bottom end of the Park is beautiful.
I am becoming more and more unwell, and need to stop frequently to avoid collapsing. Amanda is getting very concerned for my well-being, and I am pretty sure that I won’t be able to walk all the way back to the Hotel (12 blocks south) without embarrassing myself. We make our way into the Time Warner mall, where I enter the first floor restrooms and proceed to be very sick indeed, at both ends.
The rest of the journey back is a nightmare. I dare not risk a taxi ride (which, given the traffic is likely to take as long as walking anyway) as I am certain that I will be sick inside it. Every smell makes me heave.
I can’t hold it for the final leg, and am sick in the gutter several times along West 48th before we reach the hotel. After what seems an eternity we reach the room and I spend the next hour or so in and of the bathroom, punctuated by moaning on the bed. I genuinely have never felt this ill in my life, and if anyone else I cared for were exhibiting these symptoms, I would have insisted they go to hospital. However, being a typical bloke, I refuse this for myself, as I do not want to spend the next 24 precious hours or more in an American clinic with an IV tube in my arm.
Amanda reluctantly leaves me to buy anti diarrhoea medication and painkillers from a nearby pharmacy, and after taking some, I finally fall into a deep sleep. When I awake at 10.00pm, I feel very weak but much better, having presumably voided all the poison from my system, and am incredibly thirsty. After drinking some water, and waiting to ensure it stays down, we head off to the corner store to buy some Coke (I reckon that flat Cola might give me more fluids and some sugar).
It’s raining lightly when we get outside, so we also purchase a golf umbrella (a snip at $15) in case it persists tomorrow.
I feel strong enough to wash my clothes and Tevas (more than a bit of splatter from the on-street vomiting!) before returning to bed at 10.50pm. I fall deeply asleep instantly.
(On replaying our route on the map the following morning, I calculate that even with the enforced, early finish, we have covered almost 20 miles on foot today!)
Tomorrow: FAO Schwarz, MoMA, South Street Seaport, Chinatown, Little Italy, East Village, Cipriani’s at GC Station, finishing the day with Margaritas at a local Mexican joint.