nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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Zoo review (guest blog)

(By E, age 7)

We went to the Bronx Zoo! Well not today. We went to the zoo on Friday 29 March. It was nearly just like the London Zoo but bigger. At the zoo we saw tigers, polar bears, birds, butterflies and a rodent home. We didn’t actually see any butterflies because they were closed. The tigers were cool. There was glass and you could seem them from really close up. There was also a poacher truck you can climb on! At the polar bears there was a high fence that you could see the polar bears from! There wasn’t even any glass! At the rodent house there were millions of rodents behind glass! There were mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, even skunks! Actually he was behind glass and didn’t spray you. Believe it or not there even was mice in a wheel! At the birds (we saw these first!) there was two sections. On the first one there were loads and loads and loads of birds behind glass! Toucans, macaws, parrots, pigeons, love birds, parakeets, blackbirds, ducks, you name it, it was there. On the second floor the same thing except there was more free rooms. Free rooms were rooms, glass free, and lots of plants, tree leaves and lakes where birds could fly freely.

It also had a ginormous shop where I couldn’t decide what toys to buy. At the end I had an anaconda and a mini zzebra but couldn’t decide on a meerkat and a blue macaw. I liked the meerkat because it was cute but liked the macaw because it was like Blue in Rio. At the end of a long discussion, I chose the macaw.

(Spelling corrections and a bit of a sense check courtesy of nyc-newbie. Excessive use of exclamation marks and obsession with glass retained.)

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Soul destroying?

So today is my third visit to Soul Cycle. Soul Cycle is a spinning club. For those of you who think this is some kind of arts and crafts club, let me describe spinning: imagine a bike that doesn’t move, has a really uncomfortable saddle, only takes funny shoes with clips in and is controlled by a single dial to determine how hard or easy the cycling will be. It’s nothing new, and you’ll find spin studios in most gyms around the world. In New York (and elsewhere in the US) Soul Cycle sets itself out to be a bit different, a bit like a cult. A sweaty cult with a nice line in designer lycra and and obsession with yellow. I like the fact that you can just buy a class and turn up without much notice and no more commitment than that. I don’t like the cost – $37 including shoe hire, but once a week, it’s probably cheaper than a gym membership.

Everything about Soul Cycle is super cool – I am not. Everyone seems to know what they are doing – I don’t.

I can’t work out how to clip my shoes into the pedals and have to ask, even though I’ve been twice before, I am still clueless. I am anticipating the class to be full, very dark, apart from some candles and with an instructor who is embarrassingly fit and muscle-bound. And I’m right. I am glad it is dark so that I can’t see how ridiculous I look. I made the mistake on my first visit of sitting near the front to see what’s going on, but that’s really not a good idea because the front row is reserved for those who know what they are doing and like to shout a lot and not the uninitiated. I am expecting a lot of hyped up instructions from the muscle man and get them. I’m intimidated by the super fit girls at the front who appear to be like Bruce Forsyth’s ladies in Play Your Cards Right but without the oversized playing cards, but I follow them because the muscle man keeps walking about and confusing me. I’m also slightly perturbed by his red bandanna – is that even legal in 2013?

I think I’ve got the routine right: up down, back and forth only to find they have moved on and I am woefully behind. I am told to listen to the beat and follow it but I cannot find it. Where is this beat? My body doesn’t do beat. I recognise some of the songs, but realise I am ancient when Taylor Swift starts going on about boyfriend trouble – and the only reason I know it’s her is because I remember the song from the New Year’s Eve TV show and that she even exists is only thanks to my weekly subscription to Grazia which is obsessed by her and that bloke from One Direction.

I find my consolation in the bloke next to me who seems to be as useless as me. Even I can do the bit with the small dumb bells, trying not to clonk him in the process. I’m also thankful that the bloke in front of me doesn’t sit too far back as those bikes are so close together, I’m not willing to become that acquainted with his behind.

Anyway, I’ll do it again, I’ll try and hope it’s dark and hope that somehow the beat will find me. Alternatively I’ll just get really red faced and sweaty and not have to turn the heating on for the evening.

 


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A fitting tribute

Roosevelt Island lies between the east side of Manhattan and Queens. It is a long strip of land only accessible from Manhattan by tramway, a bright red cable car that takes you from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue across the East River, alongside Ed Koch bridge and deposits you safely on to Roosevelt Island. We’ve been curious about Roosevelt Island since we arrived here as we can see it from our apartment and can just about see the cable cars making their way high up in the sky. So on a glorious sunny day, with blue skies and my new sunglasses (looking good) we ventured to the island.

The island was originally called Welfare Island but renamed in the 1960s as a tribute to FDR who was Governor of New York from 1929 until he was elected President in 1932. This is not your typical tourist destination and it’s unlikely you’ll find it in the top ten of things to do in New York, but it does now host the newly opened Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. FDR died in 1945 but this memorial didn’t open until October 2012 after a decades long history of failure to develop the land and get the financing in place. However now it is open and it is glorious. It’s a beautiful simple grey stone development at the southern end of the island. When you reach the edge of the site you stare down the East River, with the Manhattan skyline on your right, the United Nations building standing proud and the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building peeking through the crowded parts of midtown Manhattan. It is a simple and fitting memorial to a great man and over time will become more well known and popular. It is free to visit and with a ride on the tramway there’s a real incentive to go there and get a different view of  New York.

http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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Going to the candidates debate

“Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Ev’ry way you look at it, you lose”

Humming this on my way to the 92Y to see the candidates for this year’s election for New York Mayor. No Simon and Garfunkel, no funny seventies hair or woolly jumpers, but a very white, middle class audience in the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a bitterly cold Thursday night. Sold out auditorium with rich wood panelling and Washington and Jefferson in large gold leaf lettering above the stage. Five Democrats, three Republicans, all men bar one. The formidable Democrat, Christine Quinn, current City Council Speaker oozes confidence, has a hard edge to her tough oratory and splits the audience with her Marmite appeal. The four Democrat guys all kind of merge into one with their opposition to Mayor Bloomberg, his money, his remoteness from the people and his lack of attention to education.

The Republicans are more colourful and interesting. I was interested to see George MacDonald, the guy who set up the DOE Fund, which I’ve written about before. He lives just down the street, it seems and bemoaned the development of the 2nd Avenue subway and the blasts that shake the buildings. He did seem a bit lost at times, not answering the questions but has a real passion for getting the poor and homeless into work and providing affordable housing. Not sure he’s the man for the job, doesn’t seem hard  enough to take the knocks of City Hall. I was intrigued to see John Catsimatidis the owner of Gristedes, the 24 hour supermarket near me. He’s a big guy with a lot of money, the closet thing to Bloomberg in terms of wealth, but no one will be able to spell his name, I certainly struggled here. The other Republican is Joseph Lhota, who previously ran the MTA (NY transit) and came across as the most credible candidate with facts and figures at his fingertips but lacking any charisma.

I learnt that Mayor Bloomberg introduced a ‘bull pen’ into City Hall to emulate a trading floor with him sitting in open plan with all his deputies and aides. I also learnt that New York is a Democrat city but hasn’t elected a Democrat Mayor for 20 years. After tonight, I predict, based on very little and gazing into crystal ball,  that Christine Quinn will get the Democrat nomination, Joseph Lhota will get the Republican nomination and through sheer force of character and ability to talk, Quinn will win. Let’s wait and see, there’s 8 months to go.


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Smokin’ hot

Another eventful journey on the subway. Deeply engrossed in the New Yorker (a great read, if not a bit too frequent) on the way home on my own, when suddenly there is an uproar in the carriage. A rather relaxed, possibly high, old guy is standing there nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. The smell is over powering and fills the carriage very quickly. The people sitting near him are shouting at him to put it out, telling him that he can’t smoke on the subway. He is getting it from all angles, I have never known so much passion on the subway before. He smiles and seems confused. He looks at his cigarette longingly and drops it on the floor, lightly stepping on it to put it out. The he picks it up, blows on it and in an attempt to re-use it later, he pops it into the brim of  his woollen hat and walks out of the carriage at my stop. His hat is smouldering.


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Brooklyn buildings

Impressive buildings outside of Manhattan? Why yes, there’s a couple in Brooklyn.

How about the Brooklyn Museum?  Although its steps appear to be missing,  replaced with a rather odd glass atrium out the front. It is a formidable presence, towering over the very busy Eastern Parkway.

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Or the Brooklyn Public Library?  Certainly not your average public library with gold leaf columns. Check out how tall the front is, when you see how tiny my mum looks on the steps. Those are big doors!

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And the glorious Brooklyn Botanical Gardens nestled between the two.  No pictures of buildings, just an oasis in the middle of urban car noise.


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Bargains, bargains

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A bit like TK Maxx but so much better. Century 21 immortalised in Sex and the City and still going strong. Despite its 80s facade and out of the way location up a side street near Fulton Street subway and close by to the 9/11 Memorial site, it is bargain heaven. It sells clothes and accessories over 5 floors and is rammed. I try to get served, which seems to be an art in itself, as I elbow my way past the thousands of tourists who seem to have heard about it too. I am on a mission to get a new pair of sunglasses. Fendi, Madam? Why yes, you can have last season’s sunglasses for $60 plus tax when they used to be $300. Some Michael by Michael Kors sunglasses retailing at $110 for $39.95 plus tax? Why thank you very much and yes, they do look fabulous.


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New York’s gone Irish mad

It’s St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, but New York is in full Irish mode today as the St Patrick’s Day Parade is underway. Unfortunately it has just started snowing here, but I doubt that will stop any of the enjoyment and excessive Guinness drinking. I saw people going into Irish bars early this morning, bedecked with green clovers and flags. Even in Fairways they are in the same spirit with these rather fetching cup cakes!

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A note to Mr Sainsbury

So I noted the obsession with cleanliness that seems to exist here in NYC. It has just gone one step further. Presenting wipes for your supermarket trolley (that would be ‘cart’ in the US). The photo below was taken in Target, a massive retailer of food, clothing and home stuff across the US. In one section you pull out your wipe, use on your trolley and then bin it in the hole next to it. What a brilliant idea. No more wet trollies to plonk your toddler into; no more disgusting gloop on the handlebars for your oral 15 month old to gnaw and slobber over. Sainsbury’s take note.

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Tea talisman

I don’t drink coffee. In fact I have said on this blog before that I love tea. Big time. But I don’t feel the need to walk the streets holding a cup of it all the time. I like it at home, in a mug, sometimes with a biscuit. Nothing fancy. But here, my goodness holding a styrofoam or some other kind of cup, it’s like a fashion accessory. I was in the 42nd Street area earlier today, this is the busy bit around Grand Central Station, and I think that pretty much every person I went by was clutching a cup from all manner of places, slurping or just holding it like a talisman. It’s encouraged: the small silver coloured carts sit on most street corners dispensing drinks for a bit over a dollar and a range of artery hardening sugary snacks to boost the energy levels. They are cheap. Very cheap. But gone by midday to be replaced by the hot food vendors: caveat emptor, that’s all I can say about that. So off I go to my 10am appointment and I am strangely driven to go into one of the many food places that will make the enormous bagels (blogs passim), get a cup of tea, English Breakfast, black, and clutch it hoping some of the magic will rub off on me too.