New York – Throwback Thursday

Yellow Cab

This time six years ago Jen and I were in New York, as a treat to ourselves for our thirtieth birthdays. For some unknown reason the photos from the trip stayed unprocessed in my Lightroom catalogue – until last week! So I decided to do a #throwbackthursday post. Neither of us had been to New York before, the closest being dashing through Newark airport on the way back from Costa Rica – it was also my first time staying in the USA, rather than just transiting through the airport.

I distinctly remember two things from our shuttle journey from the airport – seeing the huge pick up trucks on the road and that first glimpse of the iconic Manhattan skyline! After checking in to our hotel, the Library Hotel, we went straight to Times Square, which was as mad as we expected – a good introduction to NYC, but a bit much to take in after a long day travelling! Especially given that two days prior I had woken up in Tokyo. For dinner we decided to walk to Grand Central Station. We were pretty tired so we just grabbed some burgers from Shakeshack – to this day still one of the best burgers I have ever tasted! I liked Grand Central station, it seemed a lot calmer that similar large stations in London for example and I feel that it balanced the retail/restaurants better than its newer namesake in Birmingham.

Sea Lion in Central Park

After breakfast at the hotel, we spent most of our first full day in New York exploring Central Park, including the Zoo, which disappointingly did not feature Alex the Lion from the “Madagascar” film. As zoos go it was pretty small, but I particularly like that I could photograph sea lions with skyscrapers in the background. We barely scratched the surface of Central Park, but it was good to spend the day walking around, after a long flight the previous day.

Statue of Liberty

The only fixed plan we had for our trip was visiting the Statue of Liberty, as we had to prebook our trip a few months in advance – it was worth it though! On our way to catch the boat we passed the site of the World Trade Center. At the time the new One World Trade Center was still under construction, but still looked suitably impressive. Exploring the statue and Liberty Island was one of the highlights of the trip, the views back across to Manhattan were impressive, but unfortunately did not photograph well, coming out very hazy (even the new dehaze tool in Lightroom could not rescue the photos). Certainly a view that I am glad to have seen though! I also enjoyed the stop at Ellis island on the way back to Manhattan, where we learned about the history of immigration to New York. On the way back to the hotel we walked through China Town and Little Italy, stopping for a pizza – it was not a typical New York pizza, but it was still good! In the evening we visited Korea Town, which is just behind the Empire State Building, for a Korean BBQ. I was glad to be able to take Jen, as the Korean BBQ in Iwaki City is one of my favourite places to eat when I am on business trips to Japan, and until recently they haven’t been easy to find in the UK. We now have one in Coventry though!

Top of the Rock Panorama

The main plan we had for my birthday was visiting the Top of the Rock – the observation area at the top of the Rockerfeller Center. We had been advised to go up before dusk, to be able to enjoy the view in daylight and by night, so we spent the morning exploring Fifth Avenue before heading to the Rockefeller Center mid afternoon. it seemed a bit busy as we went in, but we thought nothing of it as we went up the lifts to the observation area. The views were suitably impressive, both to the north over Cental Park and to the south past the Empire State building, especially as night fell and the lights lit up. We had planned to have dinner at the Rockefeller Center, but when we came down the lift everything seemed to be on shutdown, with huge crowds everywhere. We later learned that it was because the Christmas lights were being switched on, which is a big deal in the US – it is televised nationally and they even had Mariah Carey singing! We ended up having dinner at the hotel restaurant, which turned out to be really nice.

We started our last full day in New York with a walk across Brooklyn Bridge to check out Brooklyn, I was surprised that such an old bridge (construction started in 1869) was still in daily use! I was not too taken by Brooklyn, but I expect that we did not find the cool spots, so we got the subway back to Manhattan, and ended up having lunch at a diner in Chelsea. After our lunch we discovered Chelsea Market, which had an array of interesting looking places to eat, and then the High Line – a disused elevated subway line which had been turned into a linear park/walkway. Both were great, and completely unexpected finds. In the evening we walked past the Rockefeller Center to check out the lights that had caused all the fuss the previous evening. As we were in New York it would be rude not to take in a Broadway show – we manage to get seats for the Lion King, I vaguely remembered the story, and songs, from watching the Disney Movie as a child, but I really enjoyed the show.

We had left visiting the Empire State Building until our last morning, which turned out to be a mistake – the clouds had come in, we could barely see the ground from the top! However it was interesting looking at the architecture, especially considering it was built the same year as our house! When we got to the observation deck on the 86th floor it was sleeting! Despite the weather, we still went up to the 102nd floor, which we had almost to ourselves. After the Empire State Building, the last thing we did in New York was have lunch at the Relais de Venise – we had been to the original in Paris earlier in the year, and thought it would be interesting to check out some of the British/American clones. The New York restaurant was much bigger than the Paris one, but the food was similar. We still haven’t got round to checking out any of the British restaurants…

Overall, I thought New York was a great city to visit, with a bit of everything to see and do. A lot of it felt familiar from films and TV, but as it was my first real trip to America I picked up a lot of subtle differences from European cities. We ate really well, breakfasts at the hotel, street food lunches, snacks, cheese and wine at the hotel, then some nice restaurants in the evenings! We did a lot of walking around to burn it off though! I would love to go back to New York, probably when the boys are old enough to appreciate it and ideally in the spring/summer, as it was really cold when we were there!

New York Days 5, 6 and 7: Brooklyn, Broadway, Empire State Building and Home

Great view from the top of the Empire State Building

I had actually written most of this post while I was waiting for our flight home, but the last few weeks have been so busy with work, Christmas, manflu and the 119 Project that I didn’t get round to uploading it. Sorry to those that have been left hanging!

Our last full day started with getting the subway to Brooklyn Bridge, so we could walk across the East River to Brooklyn. The bridge is well over 100 years old and at the time it was built was a real technological marvel. These days it looks 100 years old, the wooden walkway on reminded me of Llandudno pier, from our North Wales trip earlier in the year. When we got to Brooklyn it immediately felt different to Manhattan, there was a lot more space and everything seemed calmer.

After spending some time wandering around Brooklyn we took the subway to West Village and walked towards Chelsea and the Meat Packing district to find some lunch. We stopped at The Diner, opposite the Apple Store. As the name suggests it is a typical American diner, so to blend in, we both ordered burgers and cokes, which tasted lovely after a morning walking around.

After lunch we crossed the road and checked out Chelsea Market, which is foodie heaven in an old brick warehouse, somewhere we’d have liked to spend more time exploring. From Chelsea Market we got onto the Highline, a disused raised subway line, which has been turned into a park. We only had time to walk along a small section, but enjoyed the calmer atmosphere and people watching from above the traffic.

The reason we were pushed for time after lunch was that we wanted to get tickets to a Broadway show and discounted tickets are sold from 15:00 in Times Square. Unfortunately, when we got there, tickets for the shows we wanted to see weren’t available, so we tried going to the theaters directly and managed to get tickets to the Lion King, albeit at full price. After a bit of shopping on Times Square we went back to the hotel for cheese and wine and to chill out for a while before getting ready for the show.

On the way to the theater, we took a slight detour via the Rockefeller Center to see what the tree looked like with the lights on. Although, I must admit it looked pretty impressive I’m not sure it was worth all the fuss from the day before. I’m also not sure One Direction were worth camping out on the street next to the Rockefeller Center, as we saw some fans doing.

The show was better than expected, the costumes and props were particularly clever; and despite it finishing way past our New York bedtime we didn’t fall asleep. When we got back to the hotel we went up to the roof top bar for some cocktails to finish our night off in style.

We woke up to rain on our last day in New York, we only realised how much of a problem this was, when we couldn’t see the skyscraper a few blocks down from our hotel – we’d saved going up the Empire State Building until our last day. Fail! After yet another tasty breakfast at the Library Hotel, we took the short stroll down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building, to our dismay, as we walked we noticed that the top of the tower was in the clouds. The upshot to this was that the dreaded queues we’d heard about weren’t there, so after passing through another round of airport style security, we were in the lift to the 80th floor. The 80th floor consists of the giftshop and an exhibit about the tower was built, which I found especially interesting as it was built in 1931, the same year as our little terraced house in Coventry! Later, I was told that some of the bricks used came from Nuneaton, Jen’s home town.

From the 80th floor it was only a short elevator ride to the 86th floor, for the outdoor viewing platform. We didn’t stay long, as you can see on the image at the top of this post, the visibility wasn’t great, we could barely see across the east river to Queens, but not only that – it was sleeting. We went back inside and to the original 1931 lift up to the 102nd floor, which was originally intended as an airship terminal. There wasn’t much room on the 102nd floor, so it was probably good that we were up there on a quiet day, even though we could barely see the ground. We decided that we’ll have to return to New York to go up the Empire State Building again.

After that, we went back to the hotel to check out, then out for some lunch before catching our bus to the airport. Earlier in the week we’d spied Le Relais de Venise, which we’d enjoyed a steak at when in Paris in March, so we thought we should see how the New York version compared. As in Paris, the steak frites was lovely and it all felt very French, even if there was a bit more space around the tables than in the Paris restaurant – we need to try the London branches in 2014!

After lunch we started our journey back to Coventry, as on the way to New York everything went smoothly at JFK and before we knew it was the next morning and we were back in the UK. After 4 long haul flights in 20 days I was looking forward to being home for a bit, but incase we had felt that Coventry was a bit too quiet after 5 days in New York, we’d arranged to meet Jen’s friend in Birmingham for some birthday drinks at the Christmas market. I can confirm that Birmingham Christmas maker is even busier than Times Square, which only a few days ago, I wouldn’t have said was possible! Also we seemed to have more transport issues getting to and from Birmingham, than we had getting to New York – it was good to be home!

New York Day 4: My Birthday

View downtown from Top of the Rock
The main plan for today had been to visit the Top of the Rock observation platform at the Rockefeller Center and to do some shopping.

We started off with the shopping, walking up Lexington Avenue to Bloomingdales, where we stopped for a New York cheese cake at Magnolia Bakery. From there we cut across to 5th Avenue, to the underground Apple shop, which we’d actually walked past on Monday without realising. The glass cube entrance was impressive, but would have been even better if it wasn’t full of scaffolding. I like how in a town of high rise buildings Apple built what is essentially a small green house.

Next to the Apple shop is FAO Schwarz, the famous toy shop, so we had a look in there for Christmas presents for our friends’ children, before braving Tiffany’s. I’d never seen so much jewellery in one place, the store was enormous and there must have been millions of dollars of diamonds there. Jen dropped some hints, luckily she thought a lot of it was too bling and not her style and I escaped with my wallet intact.

After advice from a few people who’d been to New York before, we decided to bring forward our trip to Top of the Rock, so that we would be up there for sunset, seeing the city both by day and night. As we were walking down 5th Avenue towards the Rockefeller Center, we noticed that the NYPD were out in force and that there appeared to be something happening at the Rockefeller Center. We got our tickets exchanged and thought no more of it.

After another morning with a lot of walking it was time for lunch. We’d spotted a few branches of Chipotle, a Mexican fast food chain, which seemed a lot like Barburrito, one of our favourite places at home, so we decided to go there for lunch. It did turn out to be like Barburrito, only with bigger portions – great! Just in case we got hungry later on we also stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way back to the hotel – when in Rome and all that.

Later in the afternoon, as we walked back up to the Rockefeller Center it became apparent why the NYPD were out in force – the lights on the Rockefeller Center tree were being switched on. In the States this is a big deal and is televised nationwide. Large crowds had already begun to gather to see performances by Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey, amongst others – it was chaos!

We eventually got to the bottom of the lift for the Top of the Rock, after passing through more airport style security and having our picture taken we were stood in the lift about to go up 67 floors. As the lift started the lights went out to allow us to see the illuminated shaft we were travelling up through the clear ceiling. We got up to the outdoor viewing area on the 67th floor just before dusk, although the sky was quite hazy, so we could only just make out the Statue of Liberty in the distance. We were also able to see just how far we’d walked on day two, Central Park is enormous! It was fun using the augmented reality Top of the Rock app I’d downloaded to my iPhone to identify the various skyscrapers. It was strange looking down on the smaller buildings, then realising that they were still over ten stories high – higher than the tallest buildings in Coventry! Before it got dark we took the escalator, then stairs to the 69th floor, which was better for photos due to the lack of protective glass. As the sun dropped the lights on various buildings began to switch on and soon it was time to take some nighttime images. At night the view down town is better than the view to the north, over Central Park. The Empire State Building was lit up blue and white in honour of Chanukah and dominated the skyline.

When we got out of the Rockefeller Center we had to take a detour back to the hotel, due to road closures for the tree lighting ceremony. We tried a few places for dinner, but ended up at the hotel restaurant, Madison and Vine. The restaurant seemed really popular and we soon found out why, the food was great. I had meatloaf with mushrooms and mash and Jen had steak and chips. After dinner we tried to go to the hotel bar, but it was closed for a private function again so hopefully it’ll be third time lucky tomorrow!

New York Day 3: Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
The last day of my twenties started with a subway ride from Times Square to the site of the World Trade Center. The subway didn’t seem as efficient as the London Underground, but probably wasn’t as busy as the underground would have been at 9:00 on a Tuesday morning. The new 104 story skyscraper they are building at the site of the World Trade Center, looked suitably impressive.

From there, we walked down past the American Stock Exchange, to Battery Park , to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Even though we were earlier than the time on our pre-booked tickets, we went straight through the airport style security and onto the boat. On the 15 minute crossing to Liberty island, we got to see the iconic Manhattan skyline and tick pretzels off our street food to do list.

The sun had come out by the time we disembarked, so I was able to take some photos of the statue, unfortunately the air was a bit hazy, so I’m not sure how well the photos back to Manhattan will turn out. We started off walking around the island, admiring the statue from all angles – it is a lot bigger close up, the pedestal alone is 10 stories high and when the statue was completed it was then the tallest building in New York! Then, after another round of airport style security we got inside the pedestal, where there’s a museum showing how the statue was build and financed, which was really interesting – a lot of the funding came from private individuals in both France and the United States, and not just the upper classes. In the museum there was also as 1:1 replica of one of Liberty’s feet, with the ankle being above head height it showed the scale of the statue really well. After the museum we decided to skip the queue for the lift and climbed the 195 steps up to the top of the pedestal, for a brilliant view across the harbour.

After leaving the statue we boarded the ferry to the immigration museum at Ellis island, where we had a quick look around before catching the ferry back to Battery Park on Manhattan island. At $17 each it seemed like a bit of a bargain for a full mornings sightseeing.

By this time we were hungry, so we got the subway up to Chinatown, then walked up to little Italy, with the intention of finding some cheap pizza slices. Unfortunately, little Italy was more serious restaurants, than street food, but nevertheless we had a great lunch at the Italian Food Center.

In the afternoon we took a look at the Chrysler building, with its impressive gargoyles, then chilled out for a bit, as the combination of big lunch, jet lag and a busy morning had caught up with us.

After more cheese and wine at the hotel it was time to go out for the last meal of my twenties – the venue for this was Hill Country, a Texan BBQ restaurant. After a 30 minute walk which helped our appetites we arrived and were given our meal tickets, it was buffet style, but everything we ate was to be recorded on our tickets. An unusual concept, but it seemed to work well, and meant you weren’t forced to eat a massive portion, as you paid by weight.

I went for pork rib, beef brisket and their homemade hot sausage, Jen had pork rib, beef rib and a quarter chicken. The food was really tasty, the pork ribs were almost as good as mine and the beef brisket gives me something to aim for next summer!

After the walk back, we tried to visit the rooftop bar at the hotel, but it was closed for a private party, so we’ll have to try again after our visit to the Rockefeller Center tomorrow.

New York Day 2: Central Park

Sea Lion

Our day started at the breakfast buffet at the Library Hotel, to fuel up on bagels as we would be doing a lot of walking. The breakfast selection was good, the only thing missing was pancakes – what I imagine to be the standard American breakfast. Luckily, we had those at the airport, so aren’t missing out completely.

Our plan for the morning was to walk up 5th Avenue to Central Park, to catch the penguin feeding at 10:30. Due to our date with the penguins, we weren’t able to stop at any of the shops on 5th Avenue, so will have to go back.

At the zoo, penguin feeding time was actually a bit of a let down, as the penguins were inside and being fed individually. However, the sea lion feeding more than made up for it, even before the keepers arrived with their food the sea lions were showing off to the crowd. When the keepers arrived the sea lions did everything they were told and are obviously very intelligent creatures. It was quite surreal seeing these sea mammals playing in their pool with skyscrapers in the background.

Other highlights of the zoo included Japanese snow monkeys, a favourite of mine, red pandas and Snow Leopard cubs. I must admit I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a lion, hippo and giraffe like in the film Madagascar.

After the zoo we continued through the park to Belvedere castle and through the Ramble to Strawberry Fields, the area of the park dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. The park is an oasis of quiet in the middle of a busy city, with foraging squirrels seemingly the noisiest thing. For lunch we had a hotdog from a good cart in the park, another item ticked of our New York culinary to do list, it wasn’t as good as I’d been expecting, so may have to try another one to make sure.

Leaving the park we walked down Broadway to Macy’s, where I bought a Christmas present for my Mum. Then back to the hotel, via our first close up view of the Empire State Building and 5th Avenue.

Our evening started off with cheese and wine in the hotel, before heading back down 5th Avenue to Korea Way for a Korean BBQ. I’ve been to Korean BBQ restaurants a few times in Japan and had wanted to take Jen to one, but they aren’t very common in the UK, here in New York there’s a whole block of them. The idea is that there’s a gas burner in the middle of the table and raw meat is brought out to you, at this one the meat was cooked for us and accompanied by all sorts of salads and sauces, whereas in Japan you were left to cook your own meat. We had big plates of beef and pork, both were really tasty and we left with very full bellies – it was a good job we’d spent most of the day walking around the city!

New York Day 1: Times Square

Times Square

Our day started off with a 05:30 alarm, usually I’d say that’s way too early for a Sunday, but we had a flight to New York to catch! Check in and security were a breeze, although we did have to chuckle at the guy trying to take a blender in his carry on luggage…

Starting as we meant to go on; we had an American breakfast before we boarded the flight. If you’re ever at Heathrow terminal 3 at breakfast time, check out the bridge restaurant, I was really impressed with my bacon, sausage, egg and pancakes. The flight passed quickly, the inflight entertainment on the A330 was much better than on Virgins A340s which they use for the Heathrow to Tokyo route. I was even able to text my Dad from 37,000 feet above the Atlantic. Following the sad news of Paul Walker’s death I decided to watch Fast & Furious 6, which has been one of my favourite films of 2013. As the plane approached JFK I had a great view over Long Island and then caught a glimpse of the iconic manhattan skyline in the distance; time to start getting excited!

We’d been dreading immigration at JFK, as we’d heard a lot of bad things, but it was a really efficient system – much more so than Tokyo or Heathrow. We got a bus from outside the terminal to Grand Central station, one block away from our hotel. Again the excitement grew as we caught sight of that famous skyline getting nearer (and seeing all the American cars/trucks in my case).

In all, it took us less than 2 hours from touching down to checking into the Library Hotel, our base for the week.

Our room, (themed on dewy decimal code 1000.003 – encyclopaedias) is small, but well equipped. Free afternoon cheese and wine is a nice touch too! Based on our experience so far I’d recommend it to anyone visiting New York.

Due to jetlag, double jetlag (I was still in Japan 3 days ago) in my case, we didn’t want to venture too far from the hotel, so took a stroll down to Times Square, with neon signs, tourists, hot dog sellers and hundreds of yellow cabs it is exactly like New York on TV – a great way to start the trip. After Times Square we checked out Grand Central station, which exceeded all expectations. I’m not sure if it has been done up for its centenary year, but it is immaculate, the sort of station I’d image the Flying Scotsman or Orient Express to call at – despite being a commuter station. My thoughts go out to those involved in the crash this morning on their way in to Grand Central station.

We finished off the day with an amazing burger and milkshake at Shake Shack in Grand Central station (ironically we were served by a girl from Northampton) and then an early night, before sight seeing starts in earnest tomorrow!

New York Day 0: Brooklands

Mercedes Benz world at Brooklands

No, I don’t mean Brooklyn – we’re still in the UK and stopped off at Mercedes Benz world at Brooklands on the way to our airport hotel at Heathrow.

This was my second visit to Merced Benz world at Brooklands, after a trip with Pistonheads earlier in the year. The difference was that this time the 600 Pistonheads cars had been replaced by cars being auctioned. There were all sorts of cars from Minis to Dodge Chargers, a bat mobile and, of course, loads of Mercedes Benz cars! My favourite was a 1960s Lotus Europa, which at a hammer price of £8000 was under its reserve. It was also good to see an Alvis in the metal – Jen’s granddad worked at the Alvis factory in Coventry for most of his life.

Now we’re at an airport hotel, waiting for our flight in the morning; so going to try and get a good nights sleep. Bon nuit!

Selfie and seeing out my twenties

MX-5 Selfie

It has been announced that “selfie” is the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year, so I had a look back through my images from 2013 and chose this as my favourite selfie. I took it while Jen was driving my MX-5 on the way to Scotland and I apologise for the roof being up!

If two posts in a day is a surprise after a lean couple of months it is because I am on a coach to the airport, so have a bit of time on my hands. I’m seeing out my twenties with a couple of trips away, Japan, where I’m heading now, then New York with Jen for my actual birthday.

Although Japan is mainly a work trip, I will have some free time in Tokyo and will also be going to the Tokyo motorshow. I’ve packed my camera, so hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share when I get back. Or more likely when I get back from New York, given I’ll only be home for 36 hours between the trips.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share from the New York trip – it must be the most photographed city in the world! I’ll try to blog daily from New York as our families like reading what we’ve been up to each day and I like reading back over past trips.