nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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New York smells

Now this isn’t just a random insult, it’s more an observation brought on by an article in yesterday’s New York Times. “Don’t turn up your nose at the city in the summer” is written by an academic from the University of Sheffield in the UK. Victoria Henshawe, who talks about the history of New York through smell in this article, conducts ‘smell walks’ of cities around the world. This may be a rather odd occupation, but I was taken by her article and carried out my own experiment earlier today.

I walked 6 blocks south and one avenue across and back another 6 streets to our apartment. I only breathed through my nose the whole way. This is hard. It is warm today, about 29 degrees, sunny with a bit of cloud with a reasonable breeze heading north up the avenues. This is what I found:

  • heat has a smell but I can’t put my finger on it
  • the obsession that some people have for hosing down the pavement in front of their buildings leaves an odd, damp smell, a bit like a damp dog
  • and that when that water forms in pools and goes a bit stagnant, it smells rank in the heat
  • rubbish bins smell horrible in the heat
  • the wafts of deodorant and perfume from what seem to be freshly washed pedestrians aren’t too bad when carried on the wind
  • blasts of diesel and other fuels from the constant traffic are horrible and unavoidable
  • and pizza parlours smell lovely.

Summer in the city. And it’s only June.

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I think we’re just out of Waldorfs

Let me take you back to the UK circa 1979 and and series 2, episode 3 of Fawlty Towers.

Basil Fawlty, proprietor of Fawlty Towers Hotel is playing chef to an American guest who asks:

“Could you make me a Waldorf salad?”

To which Basil, perplexed, tries to disguise his ignorance, responds:

“I think we’re just out of Waldorfs”

Later on, exasperated because he can’t find the ingredients to make the Waldorf salad, Basil Fawlty asks his wife Sybil:

“What is a Waldorf anyway? A walnut that’s gone off?”

She patiently explains to Basil that this salad is named after the Waldorf Hotel in New York.

And that’s where we were last night. I have to confess I didn’t remember this episode of Fawlty Towers, it was R who reminded me and I watched it earlier today on Netflix.

What a place. It is on Park Avenue at 50th Street and it’s huge! When you walk in you are confronted with some grand stairs and then you can’t help but look upwards to the incredibly high ceiling and opulent space. And as you continue walking you go past the Victorian clock, coming in at 2 tonnes, it’s a beast of a thing and so detailed in its decoration, it’s hard to take in.

We were there to check out the bar. Because we could. I couldn’t resist ordering the Waldorf Salad to eat at the bar, a high, smooth and rounded border to the well stocked bar and bar tenders who looked like they had been there forever.

Take a look at my photo below. Yes, it is a pile of apples, neatly cut up into match sticks with a few walnuts and grapes nestled underneath. I think I missed the celery, maybe it was disguised as an apple? Wondering what the circle with a hole is and what is poking through it? It’s dried apple with, I think, a sort of soft biscuit thingy. Technical, I know.

And the verdict? Well, now that I know that the Waldorf no longer uses mayonnaise and that my only experience of Waldorf salads to date is the mayonnaise laden version from Sainsbury’s, it explains why it looks nothing like I expected. But it kind of works, it’s pretty light but there are so many matchsticks (julienne, as they say) that it just takes forever to eat. I’d recommend stealing some steak from the person next to you (maybe introduce yourself first) as it makes a great accompaniment to all that healthy food!

Check out how to make the salad with guidance from a chef at the Waldorf on YouTube. Note how the presentation has changed since that video was made by Popsugar in 2011.

A Waldorf Salad at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

A Waldorf Salad at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel



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All five boroughs, tick, done

Yes, I have now been to Staten Island! This is the fifth, least well known, least loved borough of New York City. It’s been on my list for a long time and today, a gorgeous day here in New York, we took a subway, a ferry and a bus in my quest to complete the set of five boroughs.

Most people go to Staten Island because it’s a free way to see the Statue of Liberty. If you get the free ferry, the big orange one, from Battery Park on the very southern tip of Manhattan, it takes 25 minutes to cross the five miles of water that separate the two boroughs, to reach Staten Island. And it seems that’s all people do. They are herded on like a lot of summery dressed cattle, all sit on the right side of the ferry (I’m surprised it does not tip over) and take their pictures. They are herded off the ferry, with very clear directions from the loudspeakers to get off the ferry as it’s not going straight back to Manhattan. And then they crowd back into the Staten Island ferry terminal to return to Manhattan. So in about an hour you’re done.

I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty many times now, it’s great, but not the focus of our trip. And as we get out into the bus terminal and head to our bus stop the only people left are the odd lady singing to herself and some people who clearly don’t live in Manhattan.

Our S40 (S for Staten Island) bus driver takes one look at us, me, J, E and my mum (over from the UK) and knows where we’re going. ‘You want the harbour?’ Why yes, we do. Thank you.

And by harbour (or harbor to the Americans) we mean Snug Harbor. It’s about a 10 minute bus ride along the top part of the island. I had thought it was a bit more commercial and refined for tourists, but no. It’s not a harbour, for a start. It’s a bunch of very old buildings, kind of naval looking, a kind of poor Greenwich. My mum wondered if we were supposed to be there at all. But no one stopped us.

And what a wonderful, peaceful place it turned out to be. After wandering around, following the maps, we came across a secret garden replete with maze to lose small children in; a ‘healing garden’ devoted to those who lost their lives on 9/11; and a children’s museum, shut, but could have been fun. It is so quiet, there are birds and fresh air. I’d forgotten what peace and fresh air were like – it’s neither, ever in Manhattan.

I don’t know that I’d add it to the guidebooks for tourists on limited time trips to New York, but for a getaway that costs five bucks each way, it’s a bargain. Just don’t forget to pack a picnic, there’s no food hawkers, no drink sellers, just birds and random whippets who appeared as we munched our sarnies. What a lovely day out.

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When is Fifth not Fifth?









Aha, yes, tonight. Fifth Avenue shut down to traffic from 82nd Street all the way up to 104th Street. You’d never know this was Fifth Avenue in my photograph around 94th Street. This is Museum Mile. Starts with your world famous Metropolitan Museum, heads up past the Guggenheim to the Jewish Museum and ends up at the Museum of New York (with others in between). With a marvellous vista across Central Park, this is a beautiful part of New York. Ordinarily spoiled by buses, lots and lots of buses, cars and taxis all crammed into this one way street, but tonight was special, no vehicles allowed.

It is the night of the annual Museum Mile Festival. I don’t remember this from last year, passed me by, but this year we turned up at 6pm to wander down the whole length from 104th Street down to 84th Street. It was great. Lively, full of families with kids drawing all over the road with ‘sidewalk chalk’. Various kids entertainers doing their thing, with an escapologist wowing the crowd with his amazing fire tattoos and ability to escape from chains and a strait jacket. How lovely to wander down Fifth Avenue and not watch for the traffic; let your toddler wander along the road, confused because he can cross when the red hand is showing, rather than waiting for the regular white person to declare ‘it’s our turn to cross’.

And every museum and gallery along the way was open for free to the public. The lesser known Neue Gallerie on 86th Street was doing a roaring trade. It is hosting an exhibition on degenerate art from Nazi Germany and it is proving to be one of its most popular shows. People were queuing down the block for free entry to this one.

Just another lovely part of New York life.

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Rice is nice

Whilst many tourists are going to SoHo for Balthazar and a French bistro style meal that is lovely but expensive, others are going the opposite way along Spring Street to buy their pudding from Rice to Riches. I see it’s been open for over ten years, but it looks super new inside, with wacky white and orange decor and comically named bowls for your rice pudding – including the Moby for those with large stomachs.

I have always been a fan of Ambrosia Rice Pudding and it is possible to get it here, in the British section of supermarkets for three times the price in Sainsbury’s. So I was pleased to find an entire shop dedicated to the humble rice pudding. How can you make it better than Ambrosia? Well, you can flavour it left, right and centre (center). You can bung in some cheesecake, some wild berries, chocolate etc. The list is extensive and changes according to the season.

And it’s cold. Did I say that? I always had my Ambrosia warmed up. Not here. It’s cold and I have to say it’s rather nice. And I liked the spoon too, despite the fact I managed to spill some on the table with every scoop, but I think that probably says more about me than the pudding.

And their advertising company is hilarious. The whole shop is festooned with comic lines related to rice pudding. I photographed a few to see here. Worth a trip – maybe skip the pudding in Balthazar and walk this way, you won’t regret it.

Rice to Riches


















And here's the pudding. Cinnamon and wild berries. Yum.

And here’s the pudding. Cinnamon and wild berries. Yum.