DAY 3 – MONDAY 1st MAY 2006
I slept like a baby until 3.45am when someone clattered around in an adjoining room. This left me a bit unsettled and I woke again at 4.30 and 5.30am, probably due to traffic noise below. I iron the now dry washing from last night before Amanda wakes at 6am. We are showered, dressed and out by 7.15am. The weather is sunny with an initially cool breeze. Not desiring a hefty, cooked breakfast today, we take the path of least resistance and grab coffee and cakes from the nearest Starbucks. We take these the short distance to Columbus Circle to enjoy the early morning sunshine. Chatting, we discuss how much we love NY already, and wonder how long (short?) a time it will be before we return.
A kid with more persistence than skill repeatedly attempts to jump up the steps of the statue, (Amanda has just pointed out that it might be worth mentioning he was on a skateboard, lest you think that he was particularly inept!) and we feel periodic rumblings as subway trains pass below us. Back to the hotel at 8.15am, Amanda has been infected by the “getting out at the wrong floor” syndrome (have a look at the BBB Tour trippie!) but eventually we arrive at the correct level. (she blames having no contact lenses in yet, but I personally believe it is a Pavlovian response to any lift door opening).
Having picked up a few bits and pieces, we return to Columbus Circle and take the brave step of attempting the Subway in rush hour! It turns out to be a piece of cake (bit of a problem, as we’d wanted subway tickets!) and we are soon on the way to South Ferry, the closest station to Battery Park. To be honest, we would recommend every visitor to use the subway system without concern: we found it simple, cheap (all trips cost $2) and efficient. It takes approximately 20 minutes.
On leaving the station we do an impromptu tour of the car park, as there is a lot of reconstruction in the vicinity and the exit is a little confusing at first. It’s warm and sunny yet again, as we stroll into Battery Park….
…. and get our first sightings of Liberty away off in the bay.
The path along the quay…
… takes us past a large, forces memorial with the business district skyscrapers towering behind.
A short distance further along and we approach Castle Clinton (named for some old general, not Bill!), the 19th century, fortified ‘battery’ castle which was originally built on an island some two hundred yards off the southern tip of Manhattan. Infill and development have now made it part of the bigger isle.
It serves as a tourist information centre and booking point for trips to Liberty Island. Even though it is relatively quiet this early, the first boat is full and tannoy announcements indicate at least an hour’s wait for those unlucky enough to miss it. We’ve no intentions of hanging around that long, and after a restroom visit and a sit in the park to consult our maps, we walk towards the business area along West Street.
This is again in the midst of heavy reconstruction. We soon strike the southern edge of the World Trade Centre site, where of course huge works are in progress. We can’t approach directly from West Street and have to detour slightly east to access Church s
Street, serving as the main viewing and information point for the site. A high,. Grill fence surrounds the 16acre hole where the twin towers and the other seven buildings fell in 2001.
Along the length of the street are a series of information panels giving a minute-by-minute account of the events of 9/11/2001. We read them in silence and take in the atmosphere of the memorial. There are probably 40 –50 other visitors, many from overseas, and a large proportion of them are smiling ands laughing as they have their photos taken against the fence. This seems so wrong, and we take no photographs here, preferring to rely upon our memories.
I never expected to be so powerfully affected by this place – we are both moved to tears by reading the boards and stand, hugging each other close for a long time as we look at the space beyond the fence. We can imagine the panic and confusion of those hours and days as people tried to escape from this most desperate of situations.
We head away, along Vesey Street, towards City Hall. I urge you to go to Ground Zero if you visit New York…. it is not easily forgotten.
Life takes on a more normal appearance as we walk into the area of City Hall Park.
This lovely space stands in front of the original City Hall and is surrounded by now familiar tower blocks.
Some of these are quite noteworthy, including the imposing, Gothic fronted Woolworth Building.
We grab a coffee from one of the Starbucks in the area and sit in the park, by a lovely fountain to enjoy.
The sunshine and coffee restores our moods somewhat, and we head off, around 1030, to take a better look at the Hall – difficult, as a security fence prevents us from getting too close.
Brooklyn Bridge is our next target, and lies a short distance away to the east. This wonderful structure has two, traffic lanes with a wooden, pedestrian walk and cycleway at a higher level.
This allows great views across the bay, improving as we climb to the centre point.
Most tourists don’t seem to have read the signs indicating a ‘keep right’ rule, so that bikes can use the left hand side, and the annoyed cyclists approaching downhill from the Brooklyn side constantly ring their bells and yell ‘Cycle lane! Cycle lane!’ as they scatter the confused!
We take photographs at various points and then return to Manhattan. One of these may appeal to fellow Bon Jovi fans!!
After consulting the map again we decide to investigate the Chinatown and Little Italy areas to the north. This takes us first through Foley Square, hardly mentioned in the guides, an imposing space with the US Supreme Court and other, lesser courts surrounding a plaza with a superb black granite sculpture and fountain at its centre.
The court buildings appear open to the public, but security is high and concrete block barriers prevent vehicles from getting too near the principle ones. We rest a while at the fountain, watching the various, suited types wandering too and fro, past CNN and other news vans.
We visit another Starbucks (there seems to be virtually one per block so far this trip!) and buy a bottle of water as justification for using the restrooms. The place is packed with young, lawyer types.
1130 now.. we head east across the top of the square, along Mott Street, recommended by the Rough Guide as the best way to approach Chinatown. The first sign of the east is a Chinese Funeral Directors, followed by an amusingly named (well to us at any rate!) Dental Practice…
We turn a corner and it’s like we’ve changed continents. The street is full of Chinese faces, and the hotels, shops and stalls are all straight out of Peking! Open fronted shops are selling fresh fish and meat to a bustling crowd.
We continue on and forward, taking occasional, interesting looking side streets until the theme starts to alter subtly. Little Italy is directly adjacent to Chinatown, and according to the guidebooks, its eastern neighbour is slowly subsuming it. However, they are hanging on, and Italian flags and restaurants start to increase in number as we head north.
There isn’t quite the same impression of vitality though, the Italian area mainly comprising tourist-style outlets and eateries rather than the real-life shops and buildings (not to mention people) in CT.
We didn’t have a grand plan today after Ground Zero and Battery Park, so we just wander, vaguely north/north west, occasionally consulting the map for distractions. Our route takes us to another green space, Washington Square, again populated by natives and visitors enjoying the spring heat.
We pass through Soho and Greenwich (now West) Village towards Chelsea. On the way we traverse streets of ‘typical’ old New York houses and apartments.
Many are beautifully clad in climbing wisteria and the pavements are lined with trees. It is a lovely journey.
At one point we walk through a school ‘playground’.. the street has been blocked by police barriers while the kids run about after lunch, there being, presumably, no (UK) traditional school grounds in this heavily built city.
Its around 130 now and we are hungry. None of the places recommended in our guides are particularly handy, so we use instinct and select the Chelsea Grill, a roomy bar and restaurant on the main road.
Although the air-con is appealing, we elect to be seated in the ‘garden’, a covered courtyard at the rear, quite pleasant with west facing sunshine streaming in on the diners, although the high, painted, brick walls prevent any outward views (which would probably have been the next block anyway!)
We ask for water and two Buds to kick off, before ordering a Chelsea Burger with mushrooms for Amanda and an ‘Everything’ Burger for me, both with waffle fries. The burgers are made from well aged steaks, ftreshly minced to order, so you can choose how you prefer them – two rare ones then, please!
They are typically enormous!
We manage to get outside them eventually, pay the $28 + tip check and leave just after 2:15pm. We carry on north, along 8th Avenue, having now decided to walk back to the hotel rather than take the tube or a cab, enjoying the hot sunshine. The journey takes us past Madison Square Garden and Penn Station (both less imposing than I’d expected)
and through an essentially business-oriented district of shops and stores. The streets are heavy with fairly free-moving traffic, and the sidewalks become busier with pedestrians as we approach Midtown. This is one of my favourite buildings, the Hearst Magazine Tower.
In less than an hour we arrive back at the Hudson on W58th Street.
We freshen up a bit and pop down the street to Starbucks for a coffee to wake us up. Columbus Circle is only yards away, so we return here to drink. Amanda has found a reference in one of the guide to some huge murals by Marc Chagall at the Metropolitan Opera in the Lincoln Centre a few blocks away, so we set off in search of these treasures. The Lincoln Centre is home to several buildings set around a central square, where, as we pass through, some sort of stage has been erected with a large glass bowl on it. We take little notice at this point, however, and approach the high-arched façade of the Opera.
The two murals are outstanding, and the photos I have taken do not do them justice.
We enter the lobby to discover more, but unfortunately the paintings are only visible from outside. The gift shop provides a couple of postcards of the murals however, and we exit happy. It’s 4:30pm.
Back across the square
….and it’s clear that the ‘bowl’ we noticed earlier has a resident! Jokingly, I suggest it’s the sort of caper David Blaine would be up to, and then as we get to the street entrance, we see this sign!!
It is Mr Blaine! A security guard says that he only entered the bowl, his current endurance adventure, 3 hours ago! People are lining up to walk right past the glass and interact with him, but neither of us is a big enough fan for that and we move away.
We sit on a bench along Broadway for a while, watching commuters passing by, and then cross to the shopping mall in the Time Warner building on the corner of Columbus Circle. We need a cd or two for the car in Florida, and there’s a music and book shop (Borders) on the 2nd floor.
The views back along the avenue to Central Park and 5th are superb through the large glass wall at the entrance.
We buy a couple of (favourite) Bon Jovi albums and set off back to the hotel a short distance away.
We haven’t had chance to look at the ‘private park’ in the Hudson yet (there was a wedding or something going on yesterday, when they turfed the entire floor for a private party!
However, it’s open now, and busy. We take a high-backed sofa and order a couple of (expensive!) drinks. This is an impressive space, being walled on three side by the twenty-odd floors above us, but open on the south side. It is partly covered by glass, and richly furnished with oversized planters, couches and scatter cushions.
It gets even busier as we relax, with lots of suits obviously in the hotel for conferences and meetings, and another wedding party. We add the charge to our room bill and leave around 6.30pm.
We shower and listen to JBJ on the cd player in the room. We have an incredibly (silly?) early start tomorrow, so don’t think it sensible to go out too late.. to be honest, we’re too knackered anyway! Following the substantial meal in the middle of the afternoon, we don’t need to venture out for food either.. so we do the next best thing and go to bed!
I wake around 9pm, feeling a bit peckish, so I leave Amanda asleep and leave the hotel to see what the fast-food options are in the area. I could have a pizza from a takeaway at the end of the block, but choose a sandwich and some cookies from a supermarket round the corner. On re-entering the hotel I have to show my room key to gain admission, as the bars are very busy tonight and bouncers are posted to stop any more members of the general public sneaking in! The barman told us yesterday that punters will frequently book a room here just to get into the bars! At those prices?!
Back in the room, I share this with my sleepy partner and we are both fast asleep before 9:45.
Tomorrow: Home to Orlando!
Mike & Amanda