We wake at 6:45am today, after an unbroken night’s sleep! This is very tardy for us, as we’re usually up by 5:00am at home!

I make coffee, which we drink whilst wading through the brain-rot local news, waiting for the weather forecast. The prediction is for periodic showers, and under 70 degrees. Our plan for today is to have a proper wander round Brooklyn, particularly Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Park and DUMBO (an arty district near the Bridge, not the big-eared pachyderm!)

The strangely compelling blather on the TV is starting to send us back to sleep, but when they suddenly mention something new, and, amazingly something from outside the USA, and, wait for it, something from the UK, we snap out of our reverie and head for our showers. (The story was a piece about the Jubilee Regatta, which looked a bit of a wash out!)

We are on our way at 8:00am, walking south to 42nd Street where we catch the subway to Fulton Street in the business district. (A quick aside – this is rush hour, on the public transport system heading into one of the busiest financial areas of the free world, and yes the trains and stations are busy… but it’s absolutely nowhere near as crazy as London’s Underground or Manchester’s Metrolink at the same time of day! I suspect the New York authorities actually provide enough trains and carriages to cope, and stuff the cost! Which, while I’m ranting, is a pittance compared to the two domestic examples above!!)

We climb up from the subway station onto Fulton Street – and it’s raining quite hard. Sigh. I brought the brolly along, so we cover up and head into the nearby streets looking for breakfast. Set back from the street, at the bottom of an office block is Squires, a traditional, formica-table kind of diner, but it looks pretty busy, so we go in.

The menu is similar to the one at the Hudson Diner a couple of days ago, and we have plenty to choose from. We both select eggs, bacon, homefries, toast, accompanied by coffee (hot, dark, fresh and lovely!) and fresh squeezed orange juice – a huge glass each!

We linger a while, hoping the rain will abate. There’s a free WiFi so we check Facebook etc and search every weather forecast on the Internet for a positive forecast!

It does not look promising: the previous ‘showers’ forecast is almost universally ‘rain’ for the bulk of the day now. Weighing our options, we decide that wandering around Brooklyn in the rain does not really appeal, so we decide to head back uptown and find something to do indoors. Our first choice, the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th at Central Park is unfortunately closed on Mondays. However, even though we had decided not to ‘do’ the Guggenheim this trip, as the spiral ramp display space is closed while they install a new collection, we think the compromise is acceptable, especially as the admission fee is reduced.

We pay the check (a mildly ridiculous $13.50, or well under a tenner! The drinks alone would have cost that in a comparable UK caff! And the food and service were excellent!) and leave at 9:45. Our increasing confidence in using the subway system guides us easily to the nearby Fulton/Broadway station where we take a 4 train north to East 86th Street, a couple of blocks from the Guggenheim. The journey is swift and without incident, apart from traversing the wet streets over to 5th and we arrive outside the gallery at 10.20. And there’s a longish line. Because the Met is closed, and it’s raining. C’est la vie.

We join the line and wait under the brolly. It’s amusing to note that all the immigrant pavement vendors who were flogging knock-off handbags and sunglasses earlier in the trip are now hawking cheap umbrellas!

The line moves fairly slowly, pausing often as school groups approach from up the street and are admitted en masse before us. We finally reach the shelter of the doorway at 10.40 and are admitted a few minutes later, at a modest cost of $10 each (it’s normally $15). The magnificent lobby and atrium are the only areas where photography is permitted, so here you go:

The recommended way to view the treasures in this amazing building, and the way we did it last trip, is to start at the top, and walk down the ramp, entering the sub galleries along the way. As the staff are busy installing the new artwork (of which quite a lot is frankly easily visible and so not a complete write-off) we instead have to use the secondary stairs to move up and down around the open rooms.

There is a lovely collection of works by Cezanne, Picasso, Braque et al, which we admire with pleasure. Further, one of the special exhibitions is an amazing, if unsettling collection of the photography of Francesca Woodman, a brilliantly talented but ultimately suicidal young woman who killed herself at the age of 22 in 1981.

Well, the reduced range of works on show means that by 11:45 we are pretty much done here, and off we go, back onto 5th. The line is, if anything, probably longer now, but on a positive note, the rain does seem to be easing somewhat. We stroll south, initially on the road,

….before cutting into Central Park and continuing generally towards the bottom end, albeit now in the intentionally meandering fashion imposed by the layout of the paths and walkways.

It’s surprisingly lovely in the rain, and so quiet it feels as though we are the only people here! Look how deserted it is:

With no urgency, and plenty of wandering off to peep round corners, it takes us a good hour to cover the linear 2 miles or so (but probably a good 3 on our route) back to Central Park South.

We exit in the middle of this thoroughfare, (no, halfway between the two sides of the park, you Wally, not in the middle of the street itself!) and head east to 5th, with vague thoughts of lunch. As it is actually still raining, we decide that (drones to the hive) the Rockefeller Concourse is the ideal place for the next hour or two. Down 10 blocks or so, and under the GE Building… where it’s Bedlam! Every office worker in the City is also trying to eat lunch in the dry, and all the food outlets have lines of a few dozen people extending outside their doors!

Time for a Plan B (or is it C now?) Keeping it simple, we walk back up to 5th,

…and enter the many-storied TGI Fridays, where, although busy, we are seated immediately on the 2nd floor.

It is 1:15pm. Sam Adams ale for me, Pinot Grigot for Amanda, with Chicken Fingers & Fries (Amanda) and Caribbean Chicken Sandwich w/fries for me.

The food is almost exactly as expected – decent, chain restaurant fayre, well cooked and served with a smile (the waitress keeps calling me ‘love’ which is so familiar to anyone from the North West UK!)

The check is $42. We pay, restroom and leave at 2:00pm. Happily, the weather has definitely improved locally, with broken cloud and the sun poking through, although it still looks a bit grey Downtown.

Saks Fifth Avenue is just across the street, and although we’re not big shoppers or store browsers whilst on holiday (the logic being that the insides of most shopping malls/department stores are pretty much the same in Manchester or New York/Orlando etc) but mild curiosity and proximity propel us over to have a nosey.

It’s only a brief visit. Feels pretty much like Selfridges or Harvey Nicks back home in Blighty. There’s a worrying moment when Amanda discovers the Jimmy Choo sale on the 5th floor, but I fake a return bout of food-poisoning and manage to escape, wallet intact! (It must be a bloke thing, but $800 shoes are still an eye-watering sum of money, even if they’re reduced from $1200!!)

Best part for me? The inside of the elevators!

Now, we have a decision to make. On our first trip, in 2006, we were powerfully moved by a visit to the remains of the World Trade Centre, which at that time was just a chaotic construction/demolition site. One of our objectives this time was to pay our respects at the new 9/11 Memorial, and, after reading up on it, we had (months ago) secured timed, visitor passes online for 5:00pm today. Had Plan A worked, we would have spent the day in and around Brooklyn today, and wandered back over the Bridge to the WTC at 5:00, but the weather has kyboshed this. We really do not want to visit the site in pouring rain, and need to make our minds up about heading downtown for the second time today.

Coffee should help. As it’s drizzling again, we need somewhere pleasant, undercover…off we trot, across the street, to the Rockefeller (“Again!?” I hear you cry!) and down to Starbucks.

But there’s a problem. Some function must be imminent, with royalty, presidents or possibly Muppets attending, as all the public seating areas have been cordoned off by a huge security detail and, if we get the coffees, there will be no-where to drink them in comfort. Stuff that, let’s take a chance and head back to the south end of the island. It’s 3:00pm.

We take the subway down to Wall Street, where thankfully, the weather seems to be improving, and wander across a couple of blocks to find Stone Street, a historic cobbled-street of row-houses, dating from the mid-late19th Century. (This, incidentally, doesn’t seem particularly historic to us Brits – my office building is older, and I’ve owned homes that date from the 18th century. My idea of ‘historic’ is touching the mason’s marks on the walls of buildings in Rome, where some of the shop and café walls are c. 2000 years old and still perfectly fit for purpose!)

I digress… Stone Street is lovely – more like a cobbled back street in ‘Old’ York back in England. There are several cafes, restaurants and bars opening onto the street, with covered seating areas on the cobbles. It must be wonderful and vibrant on a warm summer evening.

It reminds me a lot of Canal Street in the Gay Village back in Manchester. Without the Canal. Or the drag queens. (Seriously though, if you ever get the chance, have a night out in the Manchester Village, it is quite incredible!)

Canal Street, Gay Village, Manchester UK:

We carry on across to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearby.

This a contemplative spot – a simple plaza around a glass block wall, which is engraved with excerpts from letters home, sent back from Vietnam by the soldiers to their loved ones. It honours and remembers the 1741 New Yorkers who lost their lives in the war.

Just around the corner from the Plaza are the contrasting ferry terminals for Governor’s Island – a very traditional, cast-iron framed building dating from the early 20th century – and Staten Island – a modern, glass and steel structure.

We love the way that Manhattan’s older buildings are dwarfed by the soaring skyscrapers.

There is a massive police presence around the area – we count upwards of 40 parked police vehicles, about 20 Harley Davidson motorcycles and 3 tow trucks, not to mention the literally hundreds of NYPD personnel standing around in groups or being briefed in ranks by senior officers. We gather that Obama is visiting 3 separate conventions on Manhattan today, and no chances are being taken. We are tempted to head back to midtown and rob a couple of stores, as the whole of the city’s police force seem to be around Wall Street at present!

It’s 4:10pm. Still dry, thank goodness, and although predominantly dull, there are increasing bright patches appearing. Fingers crossed for 5pm. We head into Battery Park and walk through the imposing East Coast (WWII) Memorial…

… before continuing along the waterfront walkway. The skies across the bay are amazing…

… and there is a touching monument to American Merchant Mariners, where we rest for a few minutes.

It is 4:40pm and time to head north to the World Trade Centre site for our 9/11 Memorial visit.

I can do no better than to quote directly from the memorial’s website -

The National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993.

The Memorial’s twin reflecting pools are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. The pools sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood. Architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker created the Memorial design selected from a global design competition that included more than 5,200 entries from 63 nations.

The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools, a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history.
Since it opened on September 12th 2011 it has been so popular that unless you obtain online admissions well in advance, you will have little chance of entry on the day. Security is very tight, with a full, airport style security process, including personal searches, metal detectors and baggage inspection. This takes around 10 minutes or so, before we are allowed to proceed into the gardens themselves.

When we came to the site in 2006, we were very moved by the experience, and it was the only place on our travels that we did not take any photographs: it felt disrespectful, and we were basically too overwhelmed by the experience to be bothered. Further, we were disgusted by the groups of tourists (most but not all, Japanese) having their smiley-faced photos taken at the hoardings around the site. (“Look, mama-san, here are Takahiro and I at the place where 3000 were murdered. Isn’t it great?”) I wanted to take a baseball bat to them all!

This time it feels different. The Memorial has been created to be remembered, and it feels appropriate to record our visit. But I draw the line at having my photograph taken there, unlike some of the current crop of smiley faced (expletives deleted) posing with big grins against the pools. Disgraceful.

The bronze panels record all the names of the victims on 9/11, as well as the 6 people who died in the 1993 attack. I am incredibly moved, literally to tears, by reading these, especially (deep breath) the ones that are followed by these words:

The pools are surrounded by hundreds nursery grown trees, all, except one, Swamp White Oaks. The exception is a Callery Pear tree, which originally stood on the edge of the World Trade Centre site, and discovered under rubble by workers a month after the attack, reduced to an 8’ stump with only one living branch.

It was taken to a Bronx nursery where, against expectations, it recovered, although suffering a setback in 2010 when it was blown down in a huge storm! Finally, it was replanted at the memorial site and is described in the official book of the National 9/11 Memorial, A Place of Remembrance as "a reminder of the thousands of survivors who persevered after the attacks.”

The Freedom Tower, or number 1 WTC, currently under construction, is already stunning:

When finished, in 2013, it will be the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, it’s spire reaching the dizzy height of 1776 feet (a symbolic figure, reflecting the year of American Independence.)

We leave the site in a reflective mood at 5:30, calling in at the Visitor Centre (essentially a gift shop) where I buy a couple of wristbands. Having considered various options for our last night, including staying around lower Manhattan, perhaps eating on Stone Street, we decide to head back to Midtown and take the subway back to 42nd Street, arriving back at the hotel at 6:10.

After an hour’s lazing on the bed to consider our options for the evening, we decide to have our last dinner where we enjoyed our first New York meal, at the Landmark Tavern. We freshen up and stroll across to 11th Street, arriving at 7:20. The bar is busy, so we take a table in the side dining area and order drinks – Boston lager and sauv blanc, as per.

Our food selections are (Amanda) Crab Fishcakes, with Chicory and Rocket leaves with Balsamic dressing, and (Mike, from the bar menu) Irish Bangers & Mash.

Both are beautifully presented and tasty!

We follow up with another round of drinks, and a couple of desserts:

Amanda’s Vanilla Cheesecake (which I ate 2/3rds of, greedy ***!)

Mike’s Chocloate Truffle cake.

An Irish folk band is warming up in the rear dining room, and, had we known earlier, we would have taken a table in there. Sadly it is full, but to be honest we are a bit weary anyway. Mental note to book a table on a gig night next time. I have one more beer, then we pay the bill, $97, and head off at about 8:50pm.

Neither of us wants to call it a day, on our last night (or is that an oxymoron?), but we both admit that we are ready for bed! We stroll back across 10th and 9th, stopping at a Starbucks to purchase a couple of souvenir mugs (I have somewhere in the region of 70 Starbucks mugs!) and land back at The Belvedere at 9:15pm.

The mugs:

We’re in bed and asleep within 15 minutes!

Tomorrow: Quick Brooklyn fix, and the journey home, sigh.