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Sunday, December 09, 2007

New York 

So, how was New York? New York, on the whole, was fine. No, more than fine. It was fantastic.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a few problems. We arrived in the middle of the rush home after Thanksgiving so that the journey to Manhattan on the bus took twice as long as normal and when we eventually got to the hotel they offered us a shithole of a room. It was small, it was dark, it had a permanently dripping shower and there was mould all over the bathroom. Luckily we were able to get the room changed fairly promptly for something a lot better.

This was the view from our hotel room.

The second room was bigger, brighter and had a clean bathroom. We never saw evidence of a maid in the entire time we were there, however, but I was grateful for that. I was worried about my laptop which I locked in my suitcase and hid in the closet. Despite its faults, the hotel could not have been better located. We were about 2 minutes from Times Square on West 43rd St between 7th and 8th Avenues. Xanadu, one of the shows we were going to see, was in the next street up, W 44th, located between the same Avenues.



The other show we were due to see, The Drowsy Chaperone, had been threatened before we got there due to the stagehand strike and was indeed closed on the day. Ironically the strike ended hours after we were supposed to go and see the show and it opened as normal the following evening. When we were on our way home. Thanks guys! Bastards!



Xanadu was excellent. It’s a great show. It manages the hugely impossible task of clearing up the mess of a storyline that was the 1980 movie, but fitting in lots of wonderful ELO and Olivia Newton John songs and making the whole thing brilliantly funny.

I really do hope it comes to London.

We actually saw it twice. The first time we saw it from the stage seats. Yes, that’s right. There are seats on the stage, which is slightly surreal. You see the show, the bits offstage and the extra bits thrown in for our entertainment, the little looks, grins and winks that the main audience do not see. And all for less than the seats in the auditorium.

Of course, you do miss a bit by not seeing it from the front, which is why we booked up to see it the following afternoon. That was when we were meant to be seeing Drowsy but, obviously, that wasn’t showing. Vickie, my friend in New York, was keen to see it anyway, even though she was planning to see it with her sister.

We went for the three S’s altogether and Shows was just one of them. The other two were Sights and Shopping.

We saw and did loads of things while we were there and were assisted by our CityPass tickets that let us see lots of things cheaper and jump queues.

Our CityPass tickets covered us for the Circle Line which was actually a two-hour boat trip around the southern tip of Manhattan starting from a pier on the Hudson River, down to the Ellis Island, Liberty Island then back up the East River (not actually a river at all but part of the Atlantic) and under the Brooklyn Bridge before coming back again. This was our best chance of seeing the Statue, Ellis Island and the Bridge without an extra boat trip so we jumped at it. It’s a good way of seeing Manhattan and a great way of reminding you that it is indeed an island.



The CityPass also got us into the Empire State Building, where we had a marvellous view of Manhattan in the sunshine.



Last time I was there (seven years ago), the only day of my two day trip when I could go was foggy so I didn’t see great deal although the crowds were rather less. The free (to CityPass holders) audio tour was very helpful as well although it rambled a lot.



In Toys R Us in Times Square, there were some Lego models including one of the Empire State.

The Empire State gave me my best view of the Chrysler Building, an Art Deco palace.


The third thing we used our CityPasses for was the Museum of Natural History where we saw a brilliant show in the planetarium about how the Earth was formed by collisions. It was here I bought a well-intentioned but poor-taste mug which, when you pour in a hot drink, shows you how much of the coastline will disappear if the sea rises by 100M due to global warming.

Actually it was reassuring to see a definite message about global warming in the museum. It was nice to see that the message is starting to get through at last.



From the museum, we walked diagonally through Central Park on our way to Bloomingdale’s. The park was nice but the day wasn’t and nor was Bloomies (look it up). It’s just a shop, an expensive snobby shop full of people you wouldn’t like to meet buying things you can’t afford. We saw a leather jacket that cost $1,000. That’s £500!* For a jacket? What planet do these people live on?

The other big shop we visited (as well as lots of small ones) was Macy’s where we found some bargains as it appeared to be having a sale. I found a great jacket and a nice shirt for just under $100, about £50, something which would not normally be possible back home. At least not at the same time.

My plans for new pairs of trousers were scuppered because was no longer in any shop’s size distribution apart from one and they weren’t in my budget. Honestly, you could buy “normal” size, or short and fat but not tall and fat. I could buy 40” waist and 32” leg trousers which were slightly too short. No-one sold trousers with a 40” waist and longer than 32” waist. One shop (Old Navy) had a histogram of the sizes they stocked. Other waist sizes came in a variety of legs but 40” only had, I think, 30” and 32”. Nothing larger. So, no trousers.

Also, no iPod. The only places I could see to buy one (or more) were the bazaar-type shops that can be found in Tottenham Court Room back home where I never entirely trust the shop-keepers and expect to be shafted as soon as I part with my credit card. Graham also reminded me that if I bought it there, if it didn’t work when I got it home I would find it very hard to return it.

I did get some Jill Sobule CDs (YOU try getting them on Amazon!) and a couple of DVDs for $10 each (£5) in a sale at Virgin in Times Square. That, by the way, was open most nights until 1am. 1am! Can you imagine? Our local paper is just making a big thing of Christmas shopping hours in the Glades in Bromley being extended to 9pm. Woo!

One of the things I had on my personal agenda was a visit to Ground Zero so on our last full day we took the subway downtown and wandered past the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center used to be. I was reminded that not only was I there seven years ago, looking out over Manhattan from the roof of one of the towers but, not even a year later, I was watching the scenes of carnage on TV in London. It was, for me, an emotional visit, even though there was nothing really there to see apart from a lot of construction work. I thought the people poking their cameras through the holes in the fence were a bit macabre.

I was hoping a visit to Century 21, across the road from Ground Zero would help lighten the mood but it was too warm, too full of people and too full of designer trousers that were too small. Our walk through the older part of the city towards Battery Park was enjoyable, as was the park itself. A lot smaller than Central Park, a bare lip of green on the end of the island, Battery Park is a refreshing break from the buildings and filled with sparrows eager to help you eat your pretzel.



I really like New York. I love the way the city is organised, the numbered streets that make it so easy to find your way around. I felt like I had lived there for years. There is something rather unique about New York and the people that live in it that defies definition. There are a lot of people living in a small area. Their buildings are tall and the people walk a lot. The people appear rude and yet are helpful in ways that suggest that it is genuine and not a learned script.

I’d like to go back again some time. Maybe sooner than seven years time.

* $1000 = £500 and not £2000 in my original post. Still expensive though.

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