An April 2003 trip
to New York by actonsteve
Quote: The earth truly does seem to spin faster in New York, an island made up of a chessboard grid of canyons and skyscrapers with more entertainment and energy then many countries. It bills itself as the greatest city in the world. . .and who are we to disagree?
Something had to be done. Mayor Guiliani grabbed the city by the scruff of its neck and shook it until all the crap fell out. He brought in laws which many saw as infringements of civil liberties, but others saw as improving their lives. Now the city is unrecognisable to what it was. It shines and sparkles like never before. Get yourself on a plane and visit New York. You will not recognise the place.
Hotel | "The Vanderbilt YMCA - Mid-town's affordable option"
They started to do hand movements and sing "Yyyyy....Mmmm...Ccccca....Aaaa..let's hear it for Yyyyy....Mmmm...Ccccaaayyhh..."
Oh very funny.
But they'd be laughing on the other side of their face when I told them I got a single room for $37 (£25) in the centre of New York City. It was within walking distance of Grand Central Station and 42nd Street. And at one end of the street was the United Nations and at the other the glitter and dazzle of Times Square. New York has a dearth of reasonable budget accomodation It is either scruffy hostels up near Harlem or luxury hotels in mid-town. This is one of the few cheap options in Manhattan. As a result, it is very popular.
On the plus side you cannot beat the location - within walking distance of Fifth Avenue, the United Nations Building and the bars/restaurants of Second Avenue. The airport bus stops at Grand Central Station and from there it is a walk up Lexington Avenue to E47th Street and is three blocks from there. It is absolutely enormous with over seven floors of single and double rooms reached by four elevators. Reception is a bit institutional but very friendly and there is a gym and swimming pool for guests to use. Gospel tours of Harlem can be arranged by a tour desk and despite the volume of guests it is generally a reasonably quiet place to stay. The cafeteria is very impressive decked out in purple fifties decor. There you can get an egg and bacon bagel breakfast with fresh orange juice for $3.
Security is excellent and instead of keys you have plastic cards allowing you into your room. There is cable television in each room and reasonable airconditioning. The single beds are OK, and my room had a view of the Upper East Side. My only complaint is that the toilets/showers are generally along the corridor. This is the norm in many budget hotels but due to the sheer size of the 'Y' it may be quite a walk, and is not very condusive to a call of nature in the middle of the night.
But let's face it, in a city like New York you won't be spending much time in your room. The 'Y' is a good place to lay your head and plan your day. But it is the city which is the real attraction...
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 12, 2003
224 East 47th Street
New York, New York 10017
Restaurant | "Tunafish tripledecker club sandwich - Cosy Diner"
A classic line from a classic film and one I always think of when I visit an American diner. The film is, of course, "When Harry Met Sally" and grabbing something to eat in New York is like visiting a movie set. The find on my recent visit to New York I discovered 'Cosy Diner: Soup's and Burgers'. Maybe not Michelin star cuisine, but still one of the imaginative restaurants I have visited and with portions so big I waddled out of the door. When you visit America, treat yourself to a visit to an authentic diner.
It is situated on 739 Broadway as it cuts through Greenwich Village. The nearest subway station is Astor Place and if you head west from here you will find yourself on Broadway. Greenwich Village is probably the most famous of the New York boroughs and in the sixties was the epicentre of radical counter-culture. There are plenty of independent bookshops (although I got sidelined by an enormous Barnes and Noble), bistro's, health food shops, out-door cafes and even a cod Yorkshire pub called 'The Slaughtered Lamb'. But I enjoyed the Cosy Diner. From the outside it doesn't look any different from any other diner and inside is an enormous counter where people sit or alternatively in little leather booths with formica tables. It is run by a Greek family and pictures of the 'old country' cover the walls along with photo's of famous visitors.
I sat at the counter and was stunned by the menu. They had every conceivable dish and there was almost too much to choose from -- 'Jumbo Feta Cheeseburger' ($6.75), 'Bacon and American Cheese Omelette' ($6.80), 'Golden Brown Griddle Cakes with Blueberry jelly' ($5.25), 'Belgian Waffles with Canadian Bacon ($8), 'Idaho Steak Fries with Gravy' ($3) and 'Jumbo Bagel with Cream Cheese Smear' ($8). I had no idea what Lox was? According to the waiters it is smoked salmon. I settled on 'Jumbo Blue Cheeseburger' which was served with fries, salad and cherry coke with stilton blue cheese tucked between its baps coming to about $15. The woman next to me was tucking into the New York Times and a gargantuan sandwich. I was wondering which one would finish her first.
Nearby along Waverley Place is Washington Square Park. The renaissance of New York has arrived here as well and what used to be the abode of bum's and junkies is now fit to bursting with students and residents. Sadly, the arch was covered in scaffolding and it is more of a concrete square then a park but NYU students were lounging back enjoying a book or lapping up the sunshine. I had a bunch of pimply faced political students sit next to me and sound off about the world. Why is it that students can make so much noise without saying anything? Oh dear, with thoughts like this I must be getting old.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 12, 2003
Cozy Soup 'n' Burger
New York, New York 10003
Attraction | "SBNY - 'SPLASH' NYC's premier gay club"
It was in this progressive metropolis that the famous Stonewall riots happened in 1969 and it provided an example for gay communities all over the globe. One of the pleasures of visiting Gotham is to enjoy this famous community and its impressive nightlife. Although other cities have caught up with New York, there are few that party harder and get the most out of their sexuality. And the 'queen of the scene' has to be 'Splash' club in Chelsea which is one of the best gay clubs in the world.
Although the centre of the gay scene is probably now Chelsea, it is always worth visiting where it all started -- Greenwich Village. This for 25 years was the centre of the New York scene and some of the most famous pubs such as the 'Stonewall Inn' still stand overlooking Sheridan Square. This square has been given a clean-up and now people sit on benches enjoying the sunshine with a dozen bars in the immediate vicinity (see photo). Christopher Street is not far away, and visiting it again it seemed to be much quieter and cleaner then I remember. Most of the action has moved to Chelsea.
And Chelsea on a Saturday night is a sight to behold especially between Eighth Avenue and 22nd and 19th Streets. Groups of men in tight T-shirts chatter in the street, and 'G' Bar on 19th Street (between Eighth and Seventh) was a superb bar, with no cover and very popular with 'guppies' (gay urban professionals). It is a large circular room with a bar in the middle. The barmen looked like bodybuilders and the music was good. Most people were with friends and moved on after a while and coming from the land of the frothy pint I will never . . . repeat never . . . get used to people drinking pink or green cocktails on a night out.
But the big draw in this area is 'Splash Club'. Situated on 17th Street (between Sixth and Fifth Avenues), it is more of an event then a nightclub. Every night of the week has New York’s best DJs, performers, dance shows, talent contests, tea dances and outrageous entertainment. Costing $15 entrance the club packs in hundreds of men in a mixture of age ranges. It helps to be buff and beautiful and the bartenders are employed for their looks just as much as their serving skills. Three bars dominate between two enormous dance floors. Huge screens on the walls showed moving pictures and the music was very good -- high energy with a few camp classics thrown in. Downstairs is another bar which is far more intimate and drinks are expensive at SBNY -- Heineken costs $5.50 a bottle.
New York is a fantastic city to be gay in and lives up to expectation. Go out and enjoy, this is where it started for me and the rest of the world . . .
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 12, 2003
50 West 17th St
New York, New York 10011
+1 212 691 0073
A New Yorker with a strong Jersey accent and horn-rimmed spectacles reminded me that I had accidently queue-jumped at the TKTS booth in Times Square. I apologised but was somewhat perplexed as I was only the fifth person in the queue. But I will forgive anything in Times Square. The pulsating neon and moving plasma screens are a joy to behold. Las Vegas comes to Mid-town Manhattan.
Heralding New Yorks renaissance, a round of applause must go to Times Square.
Without it's revival New York would be a poorer place. I remember it eleven years ago and you were warned to watch your step. There were people wandering around starting a good night out but not the sheer hordes that come through in 2003. There was a sense of menace here back in 1992 with figures moving furtively in the shadows. Now it is all glitz and dazzle - everything is animatronic, high-tech and over-the-top. In many ways it resembles a theme park rather then a major crossroads. If anything it is even more spectacular lit up at night with crowds of New Yorkers moving between it's theatres, cinema's and restaurants. Mayor Guiliani changed it from being a seedy place infested with prostitutes and 'X' rated cinemas to the equivalent of a neon Disneyland. But compared with what it was, I think we can forgive Times Square a little ostentation.
To begin with, it is not a square - it is a convergence of streets. Where Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet is a huge tower with pulsating plasma screens. These show television pictures, movie trailers and colourful advertisements. Underneath is a small triangle of land where TKTS have set up shop with their half-price ticket booth. Overlooking it all from Broadway as it heads northwest is the tickertape of the NASDAQ building and the moving animatronics of the Hershey building (see photo). On the opposite side are shops, restaurants and souvenir sellars with the great billboards of Broadway shows lit with moving neon. Below 47th Street are the theatres themselves with hoardings for 'Beauty and the Beast' and Elton John's 'Aida'. On the other side are several chain hotels, pizzeria's and fabulous souvenir shops where you can pick up 'I luv NYC' T-shirts and little dinky models of yellow cabs.
The most idling friendly stretch is the southern part of Times Square where Broadway and Seventh Avenue split again heading in different directions. On the east side there is the 'Virgin Megastore' which must contain every DVD and CD known to man. ABC and MTV television have their studios just south of this and can be seen filming their morning show. There is always a crowd outside peering into the windows but this is nothing compared with what is next door - an enormous "Toys R Us". This place was so big that it had a ferris wheel standing 40ft high in it's atrium. But Times Square is at it's best and most lively at night. There the crowds mill excitedly clutching buckets of popcorn with their faces lit up in scintillating colour. The biggest screens are along the southern stretch leading to 42nd Street and these are truly colossal. But watch your step - one evening they shut off Times Square between 45th and 46th Street as a piece of metal had fallen off one of the displays and fallen 100ft to the ground.
The TKTS ticket booth
Right in the heart of Times Square on a tiny strip of land between yellow cab choked avenues is the TKTS booth. From here you can purchase cheap tickets to see Broadway shows on the day of purchase. This often means savings of 50% off the original price but you have to move quick as the most popular shows get snapped up early. Matinee's - shows that take place in the afternoon around 2.00pm - only take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These are the cheapest and you can often bag tickets for the big shows for about $40-50 dollars. This is a great saving but bear in mind that they are often the seats the theatres can't shift- i.e. obscured view, at the back etc. The best seats are very rare at the TKTS booth.
One Saturdays morning I joined the queue at 8.30am. The shutters go up at 10.00am and the shows available are on neon displays at about 9.30am for matinee shows. I was wise to do this as by 9.00am the queue stretched like a crocodile around the little sliver of land in the middle of Times Square. I was the fifth person in the queue and it was a merry bunch who waited until 10.00 am in the pouring rain for cheap tickets. As you can imagine it is a big draw for tourists, domestic more then foreign, and I spoke to several people from the hinterland of America who had come to the 'Big Apple' for a weekend break. One Wisconsin couple were here for a week and were seeing a show a day.
Those of us at the front debated what to see and the neon screen came up with the 50% discount shows at 9.30am. On the board was 'Gypsy' , 'Nine' with Antonio Banderas, 'Vincent in Brixton', 'Enchanted April', '42nd Street', 'Chicago' and 'The Look of Love' a musical based around the songs of Burt Bacharach. Just like in London, they seem to be basing musicals around specific musical genres rather then inventing them from scratch. But my first choices were 'A play what I wrote..', 'Aida' and 'Cabaret'. I managed to bag 'Cabaret' (see other journal), which tempted me with a huge poster over Times Square, and cost $40 - more then double the price of a London ticket.
If you come to New York you MUST come and see a show. It is what New York is all about. The experience of standing in the middle of Times Square at night while the world rushes around you will stay with you for a long time.
For a Broadway virgin such as myself there can be no greater musical for me to cut my teeth on then the mighty ''CABARET''
I was swept along by this marvel. It reberverated around my head for the remainder of the trip and I was even whistling it on the plane on the way home. How can I forget the German twang of the emcee bidding you "Wilkommen to the KitKat club", Fraulein Kosts "The future belongs to me" and a chilling finale which still sent shivers down my spine.
For $40 I got to see this marvel. Hats off to New York and its amazing theatre scene which gives credence to its claim to be the entertainment capital of the world. Just like in London this scene sucks in tourists and out-of-towners in equal measure, and just like London is a good bet for a rainy day. I was there on a Saturday which the weathermen said would be rain all day so I got myself down to the TKTS ticket booth on Times Square (which is covered in previous journal) and managed to bag a ticket for ''CABARET'' for the afternoon matinee performance at half price.
You cannot find a more perfect venue for this wonder then Studio 54. This is down West 54th Street, past 8th Avenue and the ''Ameritania'' hotel. The front has an awning and ''CABARET'' lit up in bright lights. . A movie was made about ''Studio 54'' starring Ryan Phillippe and Mike Myers. It was the seventies heyday of disco, drugs and sex but its owners broke the law and eventually ended up in prison. I can think of now better venue to stage a show set in the decadent nightclubs of 30''s Berlin than this.
Inside was faded art-deco wallpaper and crystal chandeliers and I joined a queue to enter the auditorium. We were told that Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Hauser MD) was not in this performance and his role of emcee would be taken by Vance Avery. I was in the upper tier which was a vast balcony converted into theatre seats. Below was a stage surrounded by nightclub tables and chairs (where the most expensive seats were) and the first stalls below us were leopardskin seats with little lampshades next to them. The domed ceiling was purple beaux-art, and the stage was on two levels. The KitKat band was on top, wooden walkways ran down the side and the main stage was at the bottom. My view was impressive, but a little distant, and for $40 I certainly am not complaining.
For $8 you could buy a souvenir programme which was worth buying for the detail on the show. ''Cabaret'' is one of the world’s most famous musicals and started in 1965 with Lotte Lenya as Mrs Schneider. The most famous casting is Liza Minnelli who took the film role with Michael York as Cliff Bradshaw. I was surprised to find that the production I was seeing was British. It has transferred from the Donmar Warehouse in London under the helmsmanship of Sam Mendes (director of ''American Beauty'' and husband of Kate Winslet). Its original Broadway cast had Alan Cumming as the emcee and Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. I was pondering this as the lights went out and there was a roll of drums.
A light illuminated the door and through it stepped a topless, chalk-white emcee singing "Wilkommen and biennvue stranger." He stepped back and uproariously introduced the ''KitKat girls and boys'' and the daring sexual freedom of 1930''s Berlin ("Lulu is so called because of the colour of her cheeks" -- smacks bottom). Then the story begins with American Clifford Bradshaw (Rick Holmes) meeting a young German named Ludwig on the train to Berlin. He directs him to a cheap guesthouse run by the lonely Mrs Schneider (Mary Louise Wilson) who rents out rooms to working girls. Cliff visits the ''KitKat'' club one new years eve and is introduced to "the toast of Mayfair...Miss Sally Bowles!!" who is played by Debbie Gibson (remember her? Eighties pop star with "shake your love") and my favourite song "Mein Herr" with Sally in fish-nets, feather boa, and bowler hat and much stomping by the chorus girls.
Sally Bowles invites herself to live with Cliff Bradshaw at Mrs Schneiders guesthouse. Short of money he does courier work for the mysterious Ludwig, allowing the song ''money makes the world go round'', and Sally falls pregnant belting out the song ''This time.'' More interesting is the burgeoning romance between old maid Mrs Schneider and Mr Schultz -- a Jewish grocer (played by Tom Bosley, the father in ''Happy Days''). But things have changed. The Nazi''s are in power and for some people life becomes dangerous. Mrs Schneider marries Mr Schultz but is warned by Germany''s new rulers that it is frowned upon. Sally goes back to the ''KitKat'' club but things are not the same. There is fear in the air and pain in the emcee''s voice as the patrons who once frequented the club are now in danger. Sally''s rendition of ''Cabaret'' is forced and nervous.
Things get very bad as Ludwig, a committed Nazi, assumes power and Cliff is the only one able to flee the country. The audience can guess the future of Schultz, Schneider and the emcee. And this is brought home in a chilling climax where he throws off his MC gown and reveals the stripes of a concentration camp uniform.
I cannot fault this musical and would see it again and again. The performances were top-notch especially Debbie Gibson and Vance Avery and it was one of the great experiences of visiting New York.
But it was the underlying message that you carried out of the theatre with you. This is most memorable at the Schultz/Schneider wedding where Fraulein Kost breaks into a Nazi song and all the citizens of Berlin join in. The underlying theme is that all were taken in by Nazism and all participated.
"The sun in the meadow is summery warm . . . the stag in the forest runs free . . . but gather together to greet the storm . . . tomorrow belongs to me . . ."
For the likes of me I couldn't remember. I knew it was opposite the Rockefeller Center...but where exactly was that? Was it south of Sak’s or north of it? I actually walked past it before I realised it was there..
But that is the thing about Fifth Avenue, there are so many sights and opulent stores along its length that you are bound to miss one or two. This is supreme shopping territory. New York's equivalent of Paris' Rue Faubourg St Honore, London's Bond Street, or Vienna's Kohlmarkt. In American terms it excels Chicago's Michigan Avenue and even Hollywood's Rodeo Drive. This is the New York you have travelled great distances to see - a wide boulevard overlooked by art-deco buildings with window displays showing fabulous jewel's or designer clothing with price-tags as high as the skyscrapers. It is here that wealthy widows in dark glasses and dressed in furs descend from their apartments on the Upper East Side to peruse Cartier and Harry Winston’s.
However wealthy you are, however big your budget -- you WILL feel poor walking along Fifth Avenue.
Fifth Avenue stretches all the way from Harlem down to Greenwich Village, but it is the stretch between Central Park and 42nd Street which is the most impressive and draws in the crowds. The black asphalt sidewalks are a constant moving human tide flitting from store to store This is especially busy at Christmas. In fact there was a sense of deja vu about visiting Fifth Avenue on my recent visit to New York. I had to kill time on a Saturday before my matinee show of 'Cabaret' started so I wandered along this thoroughfare in the pouring rain. My last day in America, 11 years ago, was also spent along Fifth Avenue -- and guess what? Also in the pouring rain. But if you want to keep yourself absorbed and see some of the most famous shops in the world - there is no better place to do it then Fifth Avenue.
The best place to start is along its southern edge where it connects with 42nd Street and then move north to Central Park. A subway station is here, as is another one enormous block to the west on 42nd Street. Buses pass east to west along 42nd Street and it is also within easy walking distance of the train terminal of Grand Central Station. The southern part of Fifth Avenue connects with the New York Public Library. Worth seeing is Bryant Park behind it. This is a green lawn park under the rear bulk of the Library and surrounded by art deco skyscrapers. The lawn itself is as smooth as a bowling green and watched over by the tables and chairs of the Bryant Grill. On the southern side is the Bryant Park Hotel. This is an extraordinary building made of coal black stone and glistening with gold leaf. The Empire State Building looks magnificent towering behind it.
The park, when I was there, was washed with rain so I headed for the New York Public Library. The guidebooks give this a good recommendation, but is it really worth much of your precious New York time? I'm not so sure. Inside is impressive with a beautiful beaux-arts ceiling made out of cream marble. Corridors echoed, staircases swept grandly up and chandeliers hung from the ceiling - but what was there to see? I wandered the corridors enjoying the architecture but it was only when I reached the exhibition areas that I began to take an interest. There was an exhibition on 'Anglers Weekly' - a fishing magazine from 1683 -- even in the UK I wouldn't be interested in that. But upstairs is more of a draw with exhibits under beautiful painted ceilings. There was a good display on the history of eating out in New York including reviews of 'Delmonico's' the famous 19th Century restaurant. And who should I find staring back at me but a 17th century portrait of Oliver Cromwell and his propaganda-in-chief John Milton. What were they doing there? All in all, the NYPL goes back to a time when libraries were temples of learning and for that it is impressive, not to mention a useful place to escape the rain.
Just north, Fifth Avenue starts in earnest. The first major store is SAK's on E59th Street. Stepping inside the cosmetic department almost required a gas mask as the clouds of perfume wafted over me. The designer clothes and cosmetics are impressive with Givenchy, Chanel and Prada on display. If you cross the street and backtrack down to E47th Street where it heads west you meet Diamond row. I used this street to cut through to Times Square and every other store is a jewelry store and part of the diamond trade run by New York's Hassidic Jews. These can sometimes be seen in the street but more often they are behind the counters of their shops. Back on Fifth Avenue, as you push north you will bump into the great bulk of St Patrick’s Cathedral. I nearly missed this and there is no doubt St Patrick's is beautiful but so obscure - tucked away on Fifth Avenue like another store rather then the great cathedral it is and deserves to be. I'm firmly of the opinion that cathedrals should have a setting to match their magnificence -- St Patrick’s was squeezed between two dominating skyscrapers.
Inside, however, there is no doubt that it is impressive -- as it should be for America’s first Catholic cathedral. Its ceiling was soaring gothic vaulting and the side chapels and altar glittered with gold. There wasn't the grime of ages that European cathedrals have but it is still magnificent and well worth a visit. Across the street is the Rockefeller Center. This came as a massive surprise -- my memory had wiped it out and I did not know what to expect when I revisited it. It is fitted between two grey monolithic buildings where a stream and garden flow down to an ice rink. The crowds gather at this icerink to have their photo's taken with the gilt statue of Prometheus (see photo) which was much smaller then I remembered it.
North from here is the domain of really exclusive shops -- Cartier, Asprey, Gucci, Mikimoto's pearls, Harry Winston’s jewellers and the 'Trump Tower' which sported an enormous 'stars and stripes'. At the far top Bergdof Goodman -- the department store for millionaires -- had pride of place next to 'Tiffany's' jewellers. But from here Fifth Avenue was Grand Army Plaza and the start of the greenery of Central Park. The Toy store FAO Schwartz held court on the eastern side and the western side was taken up by the extremely posh copper roofed 'Plaza' Hotel. This is one of New York’s great set pieces -- I almost felt I was in the middle of a film set. This was impressed more when a white horse and carriage trotted into view. It was almost on the tip of my tongue to shout, "Carriage driver! Once around the park please!" Hold on, I'm not that rich. Fifth Avenue must be getting to me. Where is the bus stop . . . ?
We've all seen pictures of joggers pounding the pavements, art deco apartment blocks towering above the green canopy, not to mention sugary moments in rom-com's with Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan set on the boating lake or in one of the white horsedrawn carriages. Central Park comes with a lot of baggage and it may be, thanks to the movies, the best known park in the world.
But what always takes me by surprise is the sheer size of the place. It stretches north from mid-town for over fifty blocks and is the size of a small European kingdom. There is still a ramshackle feel to the park, with great stretches covered in woodland or expansive meadows. It used to be a byword for urban crime and news stories would warn nervous travellers of crossing its dark expanses at night. But times have changed and, at least by day, the park is relatively safe. The only thing you have to worry about is the wearing out of shoe-leather and not being run over by one of the millions of joggers.
As city parks go, Central Park is a relatively newcomer being built in 1876. As New York expanded the city authorities bought up the open land north of 59th Street. The architects Vaux and Olmstead had a vision of countryside in the middle of Manhattan. And that is exactly what it is. The city is still omnipresent as those mega-desirable apartment blocks loom over everything reminding you that it is not far away, but the noise of traffic is reduced to a manageable hum. And all that green foliage does give the illusion of being in up-state New York rather then being in the middle of Gotham. But its primary function is to be a place to allow the residents to let off steam and exercise their lungs. It's a peoples park, and New York is probably unthinkable without this enormous Eden in the middle of the busy city.
To get there is easy. Along its length are over eight subway stations with the (A), (B), (C) and (D) lines passing along Central Park West and the green line stations of the Upper East Side within easy walking distance. But most approach from the south, either from Grand Army Plaza at the top of Fifth Avenue or Columbus Circle . This is the best place to enter. Eleven years ago on my first visit I was staying in a hostel on W88th Street and traversed Central Park on my first morning. I exited at 59th Street/Columbus circle and remember a tatty junction with screaming traffic and fluttering trash. Imagine my surprise to revisit it and find that it has all changed. Now it is a wide clean concourse overlooked by modern office blocks. The small plaza itself was awash with tourists, hotdog vendors and crowds watching break dancers. It was given class by a gushing fountain topped with a gilt statue and a general air of cleanliness.
I also picked one of the first sunny spring days to visit Central Park. The trees were laden with pink blossoms (see photo) and there was a general air of merriment and the blowing away of cobwebs after winter. I started my walk after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on E82nd Street, and with increasingly aching feet, walked the two miles down to Columbus Circle. On the way, despite getting lost twice, I was able to lap up the atmosphere and festival air as the entire city descended on the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
In fact the park was bursting at the seams. I'm used to crowds living in London, but I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people using the park -- joggers sped past, families chattered, and huge dogs on small leads tripped over their owners. Not far from the Met is the Great Lawn. This is most impressive as it was decked out in baseball pitches and looked over by the mid-town skyline (see photo). Here kids not more then seven or eight played baseball cheered on by their parents. Mothers with push prams looked gamely on while others read books on nearby benches. Food vendors were nearby selling ice-cream, burgers and hotdogs and it was at this point that I got lost and accidentally retraced my footsteps and ended up at the Jacqueline Onassis reservoir.
The huge expanse of water is separated from the park by a wire fence but I was more interested in finding my way south. A jogging track stretches all the way to 59th Street but was so busy that lane discipline is introduced. To cross from one side to another you have to cross the river of skateboarders, joggers, and rollerblades. I missed the Bethseda fountain but stumbled onto the Leob Lake which was surrounded by hundreds of people. A guitarist was entertaining the sunbathers in a scene that looked like something from the sixties. I settled down and rested my feet under the shadow of the Dakota apartment block.
It is these art-deco apartment blocks that loom over Central Park which give it it's character. The word which came to mind was Stalinist as they soar over the park's vegetation with their statues, balconies and intricate decoration but are some of the most expensive real-estate in the world. But as I approached the end the most impressive sight was the 'sheep meadow' at the southern end. Hundreds and hundreds of people were enjoying picnics in the sunshine. They looked like an affluent refugee camp.
It is people who make parks. New Yorkers seem to get every last droplet of pleasure out of this verdant oasis. And if this is taken into consideration, Central Park may not only be the most famous, but thanks to the people, it may be the most appreciated in the world . . .
I followed the guy to the elevator where he asked to be taken to the roof. He was a staff member at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a few minutes before, I had approached him and asked where the elevator to the roof gardens was situated. To my chagrin, he said that they were not open yet, but as I was on my own, he said he would take me up there. He said the gardens were due to be opened in May anyway and they must have finished the alterations by now. The gardens themselves were just a terrace dotted with modern art and in the summer it must be a great place for parties. But it was the view I was interested in.
The whole of Central Park was spread out below me. To the west was a verdant green canopy stretching for miles (see photo). Towering above the vegetation were the giant art-deco apartment blocks of Central Park West. This met at a right angle with 59th Street with another set of skyscrapers which connected with Fifth Avenue. Yellow cabs could be seen far below moving like ants. The spear of an Egyptian obelisk could be seen above the park canopy, as could the vast expanses of the great lawn and numerous cherry trees giving the park a splash of bright pink. And best of all, I had the view all to myself.
The premier museum in New York, maybe even America, is this one and whatever it is, it is worth a day's exploration. And you will be knocked sideways by the sheer variety and quality of its exhibits. When I first clapped eyes on it I couldn't quite believe the size and it stretches for four blocks along the eastern periphery of Central Park amongst the brownstones of the patrician Upper East Side. To get there, take the subway to 86th Street station and head west two blocks crossing Park Avenue. The grandiose structure overwhelms like all good museums and admittance is $12. Plan your time, wear comfortable shoes and take regular breaks - this is one hell of a museum.
Once past the doors you are in the Great Hall. Balustrades wind around the roof, its marble floors echo and corridors shoot off in every direction. Most people head straight for the Egyptian galleries, but I headed west to the Greek and Roman galleries. These were impressive with a number of statues including Caligula and Agrippina. Further on is the African area which consisted of huge picture windows looking over Central Park along with canoes, wicker heads and totems. But the "Met" really gets into its stride with the European section. The treasures here brought from the continent by the 19th Century 'robber barons' JP Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. They bought up entire churches and rooms wholesale and shipped them to New York City. This maze-like area is fronted by Rodins 'Burghers of Calais' (see photo) and then moved on with objet d'art after objet d'art. On show was French second empire furniture, English stained-glass windows, Italian sculpture, Dutch masters and German portraiture. I entered Parisian salons covered in 'vert anglais' wallpaper and Louis Quinze chairs -- many taken from Versailles just before the Revolution.
At one point a huge wrought iron gate dominated a gallery. This looked familiar but I couldn't place it so I had a word with the curmudgeon of a museum attendant and he told me it was a 'coro' (choir stall) from Valladolid Cathedral. Yes, I remember now, I had seen the same in Toledo cathedral. In fact in another room they had imported an entire Spanish courtyard along with windows, doorsteps and flagstones. It didn't stop there -- there were mahogany beams from Holland, dusty Venetian parlours and the Georgian elegance of London's Lansdowne house. A totally authentic aristocratic English drawing room with portraits of George IV and Wellington staring back at me. But the 'star' of the 'Met' is the Egyptian section. This is in the eastern part of the museum and you pass along corridors lined with hieroglyphics. But the big attraction is the 'Temple of Dendur' -- a fully realised Egyptian temple in the middle of the museum. Huge windows look onto Central Park and is surrounded by a moat of water. It was a gift from the Egyptian government to say thank you to the Americans for moving Abu Simbel to higher ground. It seemed too perfect to be 4,000 years old but as you looked around the chipped walls you could see graffiti that had survived down the ages.
But everyone’s favourite seemed to be the arms and armour section where kids delight in macabre medieval weapons of war. The room was filled with cases of shields, swords, axes and morning stars and there were bulky Italian, German and English suits of armour on show. At the back there is really weird Japanese samurai armour, which looked like aliens from another planet. And there is a useful staircase to show you the European art upstairs. This array of art is world class and I picked my choices carefully. Guardi's watercolour of a dilapidated Venice caught my eye as did his 'building of Westminster Bridge'. There were self-portraits of Vermeer and Rhembrandt and El Greco's 'Vision of Toledo' was stunning with a nightmarish sky above the Spanish city - dark and horrific.
I didn't get to the American section which is meant to be impressive. But I left the "Met" with the impression that this museum is up there with the greats. It is definitely, in sheer treasures, the best in America -- and can hold its own against 'The Prado', the 'BM' and even the Louvre. With the 'Temple of Dendur’, you have a star attraction in the same league as the 'Elgin Marbles', 'The Kiss' or 'Guernika'. There is a sense of 'chequebook' collecting, where the robber barons shipped over entire cultures from Europe, but with its modern facelift it is a museum to be proud of. I for one will never forget being shown the roof garden and the amazing views of Central Park. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
You cannot come to New York and not go to the Met. It is world class . . .
By the end of my visit I was on my knees in defeat.
I was begging for someone to explain it to me. I was desperate to understand what I had just seen. Help! Ignorant foreigner alert! My pretensions had caught up with me. I wasn't as clever as I thought I was. There was no bluffing with Modern Art at the Guggenheim. New York modern art squashed me like a bug.
If you visit New York, one of its icons is the Solomon R Guggenheim museum in the Upper East Side. Up there with the great's - the Pompidou, The Reine Sofia, the Tate Modern and the Bilbao Guggenheim - this is a museum worth seeing. And like most good museums the building itself is a stunning piece of art (see photo) with its white spiral exterior contrasting with the patrician apartment blocks of this wealthy area and bagging the best location opposite Central Park. It is one of the premier art museums on this side of the Atlantic. And when it was unveiled in 1959 it caused a storm of controversy with its elliptical striped dome jarring against the respectable aging brownstone apartment blocks either side. But the Guggenheim loves controversy. It wants to be daring, its building is so original--a hollowed dome with a spiral slide around the inside--it can mount some pretty daring exhibtions and the one I was to see would baffle the hell out of me....
It is quite a way from downtown and Times Square, and to get there take the rattling (6) line to 86th Street. Then walk north two blocks to E88th Street and then two blocks west to Central Park crossing elegant Park Avenue. Entrance is expensive at $15 and it is open from 10am to 8pm. If you can take a wander around the surrounding area of the Upper West Side. This is serious old money New York with livieried doorman standing outside each art-deco apartment block. They pay through the nose to live on Museum Mile and with the 'Met' and Frick' musuems not far away you are in the heart of cultural Manhattan.
Once inside you realise why this building caused such talk way back in the sixties. The interior is a hollow dome of white stone. Light comes from the skylights overhead and a ramp descends/ascends the perimeter of the dome weaving its way down down seven floor and ten galleries. The exhibtion on show in April 2003 was 'Mathew Barney: The Chremaster Chronicles', a strong exhibtion which seemed to involve celtic mythos along with some very strange imagery. Dangling from the centre of the ceiling was video screen showing showgirls and huge Scottish warriors in a surreal movie. I thought it might be more accessible from the seventh floor so I took the elevator with a plan to walk my way down. I tried to take pictures of the exhibtion but the attendant, who looked like Rosa Klebb in a bobcut, told me no!
Off in the side galleries were some very strange works of art, such as bar counters made entirely of salt and a highland sheep sculpture with salt dumbells instead of horns. To be honest, it could have done with a few more explanations. Most people were walking around with very baffled expressions on their faces. At one point, another video showed huge men in kilts chasing dancers in binliners--I was close to giving up.
I was saved from a trip to Philistine by the Hugo Boss Gallery. The 2003 winner was simple but beautiful. In a pitch black room, dry ice flowed over a set of changing multi-coloured lights set to classical music. The effect of the ever-changing swirling smoke and beautiful music was hypnotic and I sat on the floor and enjoyed it. This was simple, effective, and utterly accessible.
On my way out I was handed a visitor questionnaire by a patron of the Guggenheim. I did find it a little bit overpriced at $15 (especially as a lot of the world's modern art museums are free) but it is set in a stunning building. My advice is to come here for the architecture--it's the best piece of modern art in town.
This is where planet Earth comes to meet, discuss, and argue the issues of the day. This gigantic brutalist building overlooking the east Hudson river houses the most important forum in the world. History is made every day at the United Nations and it was set up at the finish of the Second World War to try and find peaceful solutions to the worlds problems. And whatever you think of its politics--and 2003 has to be one of the worst years on record for the UN--it is probably the most unique sight in New York. Set aside at least a morning for the UN.
Luckily, it was situated at the end of my street. I was staying at the 'Y' on E. 47th Street with Times Square a few blocks to the west, and the gardens of the UN one block to the east. To get there is relatively easy. The subway takes you to Lexington/51st Street and it is within easy walking distance of the UN garden. When you enter here you actually leave American soil and step into an international zone. Before you enter, if you can, take a look at the gardens. There are beautiful views of the Hudson river with benches as well as some interesting statues. I especially like the Soviet one of 'workers beating swords into ploughshares' , which looks like it should have been in communist Moscow or Budapest instead of a stones throw from Park Avenue.
Security, as you would expect, is very tight, and especially so after 9/11. All hand luggage is left outside with security, and to gain entry to the building itself you must go through hand-searches and metal detectors. The numerous employees of the UN have to go through this as well each morning, but once you are through you are in the 60s decor of the UN lobby. My advice is to take the tours which leave half-hourly from the lobby for $12. My tour was taken by a charming Chinese lady and she escorted our group of Norwegians, Americans, and Dutchmen along the corridors. She was very careful to avoid politics and to stress that the UN's role was to promote dialogue and awareness of the world's conflicts. My rebel nature came out at this as I believe you cannot separate the United Nations with politics. The two are very interlinked.
Our first walk was to the Security Council and we were shown a huge Chagall mural of world poverty--more interesting was the view out of the window which showed the skyscrapers of mid-town Manhattan, especially the Chrysler Building, which was set against a sapphire sky. Then it was a short walk to the auditorium housing the Security Council. I've seen this chamber so often on TV this year that I thought I knew it anyway. There was theatre-type seating overlooking a set of oval tables with chairs bearing the names of five members (UK, Russia, France, China, and the US). She explained that the debate later today would be about Liberia flouting the international opal regulations. Unbelievably the UN doesn't have the power to enforce--only to debate, comment, and condemn.
After oohhing and aaahhing over intricate ivory carving from China and a fully fledged Thai barge we moved to the 'big one'--the General Assembly Chamber. This is where each of the world's countries sends representatives to meet and debate. The yucky yellow mural that overhangs it came from Sweden and was bad art in the 60s. One of the Dutchman cracked a joke about 'IKEA' and I couldn't help noticing that some of the earpieces on each of the delegates seats looked about 30-years-old. The whole UN building had a sort of retro Kennedy-era feel to it. We could make out the names of the countries on each seat and I made sure I had a photo taken against Iraq, but then we were quickly whisked away. The last part was where we were shown an angel statue that had survived Hiroshima and a display on the world's landmines. It was stressed all the way through that the UN's role was world peace through negotiation. There was even a department for freeing countries from colonialism. Very necessary in 1945, but in 2003 only 12 of the world's 655 countries were still colonies, but the UN makes it high on their priority. Why?
Also emphasised was the work it does on disease, AIDs, and poverty, and before you know it the tour ends in the basement with gift shops. I must admit I really enjoyed the tour and it is very different from the usual tourist attractions and it does make you think--which was exactly what I wanted.
I just wish they had better interior decorating. Mustard yellow against brown walls is not nice.
It can be seen from nearly everywhere in Manhattan. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, there it is in the distance, wandering down 42nd Street, there it is, towering above the buildings. And most significantly it is there at night -- lit up in red, white and blue or whatever the season dictates. It was my bearings when wandering around Chelsea at three in the morning and the first thing I saw arriving at night on the airport bus. Quite frankly, the Empire State Building is New York City.
There is no doubt this is the symbol of capitalist America. It symbolises the power and symbolism of the United States around the world. When I looked up at it I remembered its original intention -- that to be a symbol of hope in the age of depression. The Chrysler Building is older, by one year, but the ESB was an emblem of confidence as the rest of America plunged into tough times. And it was one of the first buildings in the world to be helped by a movie. In 1933 King Kong climbed to its summit with Fay Wray and its image was flashed around the world. It was the tallest building in the New York until the completion of the World Trade Center in 1972. And sadly, after September 2001, it has sadly returned to that role.
As a tourist you feel obliged to visit it. I made the pilgrimage eleven years ago and in 2003 it has been made more tourist-friendly but with tighter security. It is a good place to come to orientate yourself with Manhattan. From the observation gallery Manhattan looks like a manageable island. But before you ascend in the ear-popping elevators make time to see it from below in its entirety. I think the best view is from the 42nd St sidewalk near Bryant Park (see photo). From there the ESB looks spearlike and its art-deco lines and curves are at their most beautiful. From immediately below on Fifth Avenue or 34th Street it is easy to miss. Many a tourist has walked past without knowing it is there -- until they look up!
There are entrances on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. The first floor is a maze of flecked marble corridor and art-deco murals, not to mention a very extensive security search. Tickets to the observatory floor are $9 and if you wish to combine this with a virtual reality flight over night-time New York -- $20. You are corralled into a high speed elevator that takes you to the 86th floor. The elevator travels ten floors a minute and travels so fast that your ears pop. Audio tours are available when you emerge at the 86th Floor and there is another elevator to take you to the observation deck. I must say there are more attendants to see to the needs of tourists then there was when I visited 11 years ago. A hundred others have the same idea as you and it may take a bit of elbow maneuvering to get the view you want. The Empire State is one of the few places in New York where foreign and domestic tourists congregate in such numbers. But as you expect the view doesn't disappoint and is meant to be even more amazing at sunset or when the lights of Manhattan come on below. You want Woody Allen's romantic New York -- come up here when night falls.
From here you get some perspective of Manhattan as an island. To the east the grid of streets stretched to the East River with Brooklyn and Queens in the distance. E34th Street directly below me looked like a gourged canyon with yellow cabs buzzing below. As you move to the north the great silver spike of the Chrysler Building comes into view (see photo). Further north Bryant Park looks like a green patch amongst the concrete and Central Park is a verdant emerald blot stretching as far as the eye can see. To the west is the Hudson with ships and aircraft carriers moored at the piers. But it is the south which has the best views. Manhattan tapers to a point stocked with skyscrapers and 'Liberty Island' can just about be seen in the distance. And no one on the observation deck can ignore the poignant changes which have occurred here. The great blocky mass of the World Trade Center has gone and the New York skyline is poorer for it.
In fact when I retreated to ground level I reflected that once again the Empire State is the tallest skyscraper in Manhattan. At the time when it was built it was a symbol of confidence, a metaphor for the start of the modern age. It is the oldest and greatest skyscraper in America, nee the world, and now looks as ancient and elegant as any other world class sight. Seen from a distance or up close there is only one word to describe the Empire State Building.
Imperial . . .
The angular tip of Manhattan is it''s oldest and most interesting part and stretches back 400 years. This was where the metropolis started and contains the most historic sights on the island. It was also the site of the most horrifying atrocity to hit the city in its history and the ruins of the World Trade Center will draw you in when you visit this part of New York. But I think the area is worth a mornings wander - rare old Georgian buildings barely survive amongst the glass and steel of the skyscrapers, two fascinating historic churches line Broadway and in the spring sunshine City Hall Park is one of the loveliest places in the city.
The best walk is between Battery Park and City Hall Park along Broadway. This area is the focal point of the United States wealth and contains such capitalist icons such as Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. From Monday to Friday the area is the abode of rushing, harassed stockbrokers, bond dealers and financial workers while at the weekend it is exceptionally quiet and just populated by tourists. The twisting non-angular streets of this district date from the time when this was the first part of Manhattan to be settled. Wall Street gets it''s name because it was built along the site of a wall when the city was a Dutch colony and the streets between this and here and Whitehall Street and are twisting turning enjoyable maze.To get to this part of town take the red line to Wall Street subway station, the green line to Bowling Green or the Yellow Line to Whitehall Street. Buses go to Battery Park and the #1 travels all the way up to Central Park along Broadway.
The best place to start is at the tip of Manhattan and work northwards. Battery Park is at the very southern apex of the island and has stunning views across New York harbour. It is also where the ferries land and disgorge their hundreds of workers that run the financial district. The Staten Island ferry (free) stands on the western tip of Battery Park and amidst the greenery the squat shape of Castle Clinton is where you buy your tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty. Not really a castle this is more of a fort built to protect New York from the British in 1805. But most people stand and stare at one of the most famous icons of America - the Statue of Liberty. The ''Green Lady'' looked small and fragile on her own out there. And at the moment, due to security, no tourists are allowed to alight on Liberty Island. The boat tours bypass the gigantic statue on their way to nearby Ellis Island. The tourists didn''t seem to mind - most people were happy to sit, eat hotdogs, buy pictures of New York, and stare out across the water to Brooklyn and Ellis Island.
Battery Park has it''s own charms with rippening cherry blossoum trees and the skyscrapers of corporate America. And the East Coast Memorial was impressive carved with the names of those lost at sea in WWII on ten enormous megaliths and a giant bronze bald eagle statue watching over them. Then it is north into the financial district. This area, created by the British and Dutch, has the winding streets of Europe but it''s buildings have mainly been replaced by glass and steel skyscrapers. Not much of the old New York remains, but there is one survivor hanging on by it''s fingertips - the Fraunces Tavern.
This redbrick townhouse was built in 1764 and its old architecture really stood out against the glass and chrome around it (see photo). Nowadays, it is a museum and a restaurant, and although the structure dates from the 18th Century most of the building is a Victorian renovation. Once through the doors, it is up creaky wooden stairs to the museum ($3) which consisted of three rooms left as they were in 1783. This was where they hosted George Washington’s farewell retirement dinner. The main dining room consisted of a bar, oil portraits of the great man and rows of dining tables. Francis Fraunces was a superb chef and big-wig''s from all over the new US used to come and taste his syllabub according to the information sheet provided. Unfortunately the information sheet didn''t explain what a syllabub was....
North of here is the famous Wall Street. Around the world this tiny street epitomises the capitalist worship of Mammon. At its western end are the spires of Trinity Church. But before that is the marble portico of Federal Hall. From the steps you can see the New York Stock Exchange, where after 9-11 a 50ft high American flag is draped (see photo). But at the western end of Wall Street is the mighty Broadway. Get used to this street as it runs from Battery Park up the length of Manhattan to Morningside heights at the tip of Harlem. For a long time it is New York’s entertainment strip showcasing theatres, bars, music halls and hotels. Now it is the cities main artery and houses some of the cities churches including the superb Trinity Church. Surrounded by skyscapers it is in it''s own little green lawned oasis which is also a colonial graveyard. There has been a church here since 1694 and it is not baroque or medieval but Victorian gothic and the current version dates from 1836. Inside is gorgeous - it has colourful stained-glass windows, a carved altar and a fan-vaulted ceiling.
But further on along Broadway a slow chill settles on you. You are aware that the streets to the west are getting more tourist traffic then normal. At Liberty Street you can walk to the ruins of the World Trade Center - the site of the horror of two years ago. There is nothing left but a colossal hole in the ground protected by fencing. You move towards it as if you are hypnotised and the thought crossed my mind that I was travelling the same streets that on that day people fled for their lives. The crowds are very silent as they stand on the viewing platform. And it is not a conventional sight - there is nothing really to see except a Christian cross made out of blackened burnt girders. The viewing platform put up by Mayor Bloomberg was covered in pictures of the Twin Towers. People had written messages of support and some of anger "Never forgive or forget..." said one. But the overall atmosphere was one of respect.
Just as powerful is the nearby St Paul’s Church. How this 18th-century Palladian gem survived the collapse of the WTC is a miracle. And if it is familiar to Londoners then it is based on our very own St-Martins-in-the Fields in Trafalgar Square. What shocked me was the proximity of the disaster to the church. A photo showed glowing red embers only inches away from its ancient graveyard and looking like a vast lava flow. The interior provided rest, food and peace for the emergency services. And the white balconies of the church were hung with tapestries and flags from the fire crews (see photo) and candy, sleeping bags and firefighting gear were on show - it was like we had stepped back two years. These houses of god are created to provide shelter, peace and support for those who visit them. On that terrible day St Paul’s provided exactly this to the people involved in that terrible tragedy.
A few steps on Broadway opens up into a magnificent Square - City Hall Park. Looking gorgeous on a sunny spring day the Greek Revival City Hall towers into the air. The park itself was a gem with a gushing fountain, Victorian lamposts and pink cherry blossoms giving the place colour. This is one of the oldest parts of New York and was completed in 1812 and has more of an air of being in a city centre then any of the grand mid-town boulevards and the people were more natural. Office workers sit on park benches discussing colleagues and tuck into bagels and cokes, people walk dogs, and everyone had a smile on their face for the first day of spring.
Finally, there is one final sight you must see in this area. The northwest corner of the square takes Broadway northwards and a walk through Tribeca and into trendy SoHo takes you to 530 Broadway. What is so important about this address?
Why, it''s the IGOUGO offices of course. How can you come to New York and not visit them?
This is where New York opens up and becomes a truly monumental with the kinds of vistas that you see on the cinema screen. The city abuts the wide fast-flowing Hudson River here, and it is spanned by one of the most famous bridges in the world - the Brooklyn Bridge. A walk across this bridge is mandatory not only to admire the intricate cast-iron architecture of this Victorian bridge, but to enjoy the skyscraper views of the Financial District, Midtown, and Brooklyn itself. It also is an area riddled with interesting history; if you know where to look this can be the most rewarding part of New York to explore.
To get there is simple. All subway lines seem to lead to Fulton Street-Broadway Nassau or even closer - Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. From there it is a short walk to City Hall Park. And the #15 bus travels all the way down Second Avenue to the financial district from the Upper East Side. The Bridge itself is a route for traffic but pedestrians make use of the walkway high above the rushing cars. And as this is a commuter route there is always a stream of people hurrying across the metal walkways of this bridge. The area is also one of the most historic in New York. To the north of City Hall Park is Foley Square and Chinatown. Foley Square stands on the old ''Five Points'' section which in the 19th Century was one of the worse slums in the world. It was named after the meeting of five streets - Orange, Mulberry, Anthony, Little Water and Cross (most long gone) and it was a festering slum of hoodlums murderers and thieves. It averaged a murder a day and even Charles Dickens when he visited was shocked. It was of course the setting for the superb ''Gangs of New York'' film by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. The old gangs of the ''Dead Rabbits'' and ''Natives'' fought pitched battles here. Nowadays, it is an immense square of concrete watched over by the Greek columns of the Supreme Court.
If you come this far up then you must have a look at Chinatown. Although San Francisco can probably boast a more famous district - New York''s seems have more of a mysterious past. Mott Street is the main street and is lined hundreds of Chinese medicine shops, noodle parlours, and tattoo artists. The shops themselves are fascinating with little pots growing bamboo, silk dresses and twittering canaries on sale. Of course it is the restaurants that are the main attraction and you can pick up dim sum for about $4.00 or a full meal for about $8.00. One of its exits to the south is Pell Street. In the 19th Century this was known as the ''Bloody Angle'' when it was an alley of many murders and robberies when the Tong''s ran Chinatown. The Tong wars have long since finished and the meat cleavers are now used in the restaurants that line Mott Street instead of on each other.
Back at City Hall Park is the start of the Brooklyn Bridge. On the eastern side of the park is a flower-laden traffic island and from here the pedestrian walkway starts. There are always crowds crossing and they travel the walkway which soars above the speeding traffic below. It is, after the Golden Gate, the most famous bridge in America and beloved of New Yorkers and tourists alike. It is undeniably impressive and when it was completed in 1883 was a technological marvel. It''s two supportive granite pylons are hung with weblike metal cables which create a sort of spider-like feel as you walk to the first pylon. The strands look so delicate and graceful but in reality are strong and taut. The pylons themselves are a marvel of Victorian engineering, and most people just walk to the first one. Whether you choose the first or second to finish your journey the views from either are sensational (see photo).
To the south are the skyscrapers of the financial district in all their glory - some are art-deco, some are concrete and glass but all undeniably impress. At their foot was South Street Seaport with the masts of its clippers standing tall. The second pylon had marvelous views to the north of mid-town and upper Manhattan. The cityscape was flat apart from those two icons - the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Even Brooklyn had its won mini-art deco skyline. Once finished with the Brooklyn Bridge (and you can spend a lazy afternoon crossing from one side to the other) then I would head for South Street Seaport. To get there you must return to City Hall Park and at its southern end cross the huge zebra crossings to Fulton Street. This street heads downhill to the sea and being on the edge of the financial district it was full of offices, sandwich shops, stores, bars etc. Most interesting was the ''Strand'' bookshop which was a cavernous warehouse of used books. It''s a good place for browsing, but even if you are just doing that you must hand over any bags to an attendant before you can enter.
A mini-lighthouse marked the start of South Street Seaport and its cobbles. This is a very good example of urban regeneration where Victorian buildings and wharves have been converted into spiffy restaurants and shops without compromising the character of the area. Very popular with visitors who generally headed for the water via shops which housed GAP, ''the Bodyshop'' and ''Abercrombie and Fitch''. A busy road separates Fulton Street from the clean wharves of the seaport and once across you are in front of two impressive 19th Century clippers - ''Wavertree'' and ''Peking''. From these wharves and piers you can get tours of the harbour. Pier 17 extends into the harbour with restaurants, bars and a shopping mall. I found a good seat at the top of Pier 17 where I got impressive views of the Brooklyn Bridge and could snigger at a skateboarder fall over and make a fool of himself.
The pier itself is essentially a mall. The food courts are impressive with cheap food from around the world. And the NIKE store, gadget shops and poster emporiums were all worth a look. One last note, as I was walking back uphill on Fulton Street I looked behind and saw the masts of the clippers loom over the Victorian buildings.
It is easy to criticise South Street Seaport for being touristy, but for a second, I saw olde New York. The New York of the sepia photographs.
New York has a fully fledged aircraft carrier . . .
This monster floats in the Hudson on the western shore of Manhattan. A gargantuan ship that in it's time saw conflict at the battle of Midway and transported troops to the Vietnam War. Stretching 900ft from bow to stern it is an impressive sight set against the skyscrapers of mid-town. Here you can scramble over the decks that felt the blows of kamikaze pilots, descend into the bowels of a nuclear submarine and look out of the bridge window at a view of a ship that has seen action in Korea, Okinawa and picked up space capsules from the moon landings.
I recommend at least an afternoon to see this magnificent vessel. Even if you don't like military history, the sheer scale and scope of this behemoth will win you over. There is something beautiful about the design of a battleship, and something even more special about an aircraft carrier - possibly the most powerful weapon of war in the world. Kids will absolutely love it, it has an abundance of planes, submarines and gun emplacements for them to play with and adults will find the way of life aboard these huge vessels fascinating. The story and experiences of the 'Intrepid' are the stuff that modern legends are made of . . .
It does take a little ingenuity to get there. It is moored in the West Hudson on 12th Avenue with views towards New Jersey. It lies between W44th Street and W46th Street and the easiest way would be to walk through 'Hell's Kitchen'. This notorious area looked fine as I took the bus through it in daytime, but I'm not sure it is advisable in the evening? From Grand Central or Times Square the best way to reach it is a bus down 42nd Street. The nearest subway stop is Port Authority/42nd Street but this is still a walk of six blocks which can be wearing on the feet. The bus costs only £1.50 and heads west along 42nd Street and changes at 12th Avenue where you can get off for the Circle Line ferries and USS 'Intrepid'.
Before the entrance to the aircraft carrier are the remains of an old pier whose stumps poke nervously from the water. Then you walk past the prow of the 'Intrepid' which towers 50ft above you and was tied with a huge yellow ribbon when I was there (the Iraqi war still had two weeks to go). Entrance costs $14 and is open from 9am to 6pm, and you bags and belongings will undergo a very tight security check. Then you climb the steps and enter the vast interior hangar. This 800ft long metallic cavern was where the bombers and jets were housed before being hydraulically raised to the runway above. On show were pieces of the airplane that slammed into the Twin Towers back in 2001 and numerous fighter aircraft including one flown by George Bush senior in the Second World War. There were also enormous space capsules from the moon landings that the 'Intrepid' used to pick up from the Pacific in the late sixties. And there is a superb exhibition called 'The Forgotten War' about Korea in 1950-1953.
But it was the self-explanatory video that really caught my attention. This showed the story of the 'Intrepid' and after watching this I developed some real affection for the old girl. She was first commissioned in the thirties and saw action in the Pacific at Okinawa and Midway. Her nadir came when she was fighting off Japan and attacks by 'kamikaze' pilots severely damaged the bridge and runway. She came home in WWII but was used in Korea and Vietnam. In 1976 she was due to be de-commissioned but instead of being sold for scrap she was purchased by multi-billionaire Zachary Fisher and turned into a museum. She has been opened to the public since 1982 and her hangar has seen numerous high-status dinners including with speakers Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Maggie Thatcher.
But best of all is topside. Set against the skyscrapers of New York the entire flight deck stretches for about 700ft (see photo). On it's starboard was a huge bridge tower with a warning about 'exhaust burns' emblazoned on it's side. Lining the deck were warplanes from around the world - Russian MIG's, American bombers, French fighters and RAF Scimitars. There were BELL helicopters that I remember from M.A.S.H. and a very sinister black shape at the end which was the famous 'Stealth' bomber. A bomber so fast it can slip under a country’s radar. To reach the bridge you must climb a number of ladders, a wide window provided good views across the runway and there were 'Intrepid' veterans there to answer any questions. I was surprised to see how little electronics there was on the bridge, the controls seem to consist of brass instruments and black buttons.
'Intrepid' is not alone on the Hudson. Sharing it's pier are other navy vessels. USS 'Growler' (fabulous name!) was a nuclear submarine that could be visited on a guided tour but I settled on a nearby battle cruiser USS 'Edison' which was dwarfed next to the mighty 'Intrepid'. You could stroll the decks, visit the angled prow and play with the Bofors gun on its emplacement. The narrow passageways and crew quarters were more interesting with a large commissary with over twelve different types of ice cream . . .
All in all, 'Intrepid' and its sisters won me over with their sheer sense of scale. There is something undeniably beautiful about an aircraft carrier. The video shots of her ploughing through blue Pacific waters on the way to battle were exhilarating. It's easy to understand why the old girl commands such affection.
London, United Kingdom