nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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Oh the places you’ll go

Thanks Dr Seuss, but for me it’s the places I’ve been. At the risk of repeating myself and most of my blog, here’s a quick round up to remind me and you of some of the best places to go if you ever visit New York:

The obvious arty places

  • The Met: it’s big, it’s famous and it’s somewhere you should go if you visit New York.
  • The Guggenheim: it is curvy, white and cooler than it’s stuffier friend down the road. Go, but be careful of the low walls and the height, not good for vertigo sufferers.
  • MOMA: too busy but I quite like it, just wish they would show more Hoppers.
  • Whitney: this is now closed until later this year as it heads downtown away from its Madison Avenue concrete monstrosity. Holds blockbuster exhibitions and is home to a massive collection of Hoppers, which are of course always lovely.

The less obvious arty places

  • Museum of the City of New York: well worth the slightly further trek up 5th Avenue to see this if they have some interesting exhibitions on. Great chandelier and nice cafe.
  • MOMA PS1: the Queens based little and very cool sister of MOMA on 51st Street. Love wacky art? You’ll love this place but watch out for the quizzical expression that will remain on your face for days when you emerge blinking into the daylight.
  • Queens Museum: staying in Queens, this is well worth the visit, all refurbished and shiny (and right by the relics of the World’s Fair from 50 years ago). Not busy, not expensive but make sure the 7 train is running this far out as it’s super expensive by cab.
  • Bronx Museum of Arts: bit of a trek and not the swankiest area, but for the brave, a trip out here puts you well and truly on the ‘wow, you’ve been there?’ end of the spectrum. No one will have heard of it and you look cool.

The obvious touristy places

  • Central Park: have I written about how much I love it?
  • Empire State Building: not been this time, but R and E did and E recommends a small stuffed seal toy as a face warmer when it’s minus horrendous outside.
  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: see previous posts about going when the weather is nice but no one else has noticed.

The less obvious touristy places

  • Go to Harlem: have brunch at Red Rooster and wait for ages for a table; listen to amazing ladies singing gospel a few feet away and then stuff yourself with hearty, carb laden breakfast food. Hang out at the Studio Museum on 125th Street and check out some African American art. Walk the 20 blocks to the very top of Central Park around 106 Street on the 5th Avenue side and gaze at Duke Ellington, way up on a plinth, hanging out with his piano.
  • Get on the A train: sticking with my jazz theme temporarily and go to the Cloisters. This is the Met’s older brother, he is mediaeval. Go on a warm summer’s day and walk through nearby Fort Tryon Park; take a picnic and gaze over the Hudson River to New Jersey.
  • Stop walking around Bloomingdales: wander further along 59th Street to the tram way and glide over the East River to one of my favourite places, Roosevelt Island. I have lost count of the number of times I have been, but I never get bored of the Roosevelt Memorial, it’s amazing.
  • And go to Coney Island, the Blackpool of New York City.

There are loads more and most are covered in other blog posts. I shall miss all this discovery, I’ve been to more places in New York in 2 years than I ever did living in London for 12 years.

 


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Rain? What rain?

Here are my top tips for visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island:

1. Don’t go on the rainiest day of the year. Especially when that rain is really cold and forms slushy puddles everywhere you walk. Go equipped with snow boots and heavy duty rain gear including thick gloves and umbrellas

2. If you do go on the rainiest day of the year you can wave goodbye to crowds and all those who booked to come here but didn’t come because of the rain. You will breeze on to the ferry, find a seat easily and despite the rain and general cold, have a pleasant journey from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty.

3. Be happy you booked to go inside the Statue of Liberty – the Crown tickets. This is because there are no crowds (see 2. above) and because climbing hundreds of steps inside a copper statue in the cold is actually OK. Imagine it is 30 degrees C + and you are inside said statue, now that’s unpleasant.

4. Rejoice reaching the crown of the lady liberty, be slightly freaked out by being so incredibly close to the eyes inside the statue, staring at you; look outside the tiny windows of the crown and think ‘blimey, her hands are massive’ as you realise quite how large this statue is when you get inside it.

5. Congratulate yourself when you emerge at the bottom for not slipping on the incredibly narrow spiral staircase that goes up and down the inside of the statue. Forget the fact that you slipped on the way up the first, less narrow stairs, missed the bannister and bashed your head on the wall in a spectacular feat of clumsiness.

6. Freeze in the queue for the next ferry that will take you to Ellis Island. Feel smug that you brought lunch in the form of Bob’s Bagels stuffed with lovely cream cheese and other delights; no greasy over priced food for you on this trip.

7. Lament the shortness of the crossing that does not allow your tea to cool down enough that you have to dump it in the bin on the way out as you need both hands to drive the buggy. Buggy very necessary on very wet day to control toddler who is liable to sit down in protest anywhere and anyhow regardless of foul weather conditions.

8. Feel pleased for making the effort to get off the ferry at Ellis Island as it is a poignant reminder of the adversity of New York’s immigrant population. Think warm thoughts of 8 year old daughter who is actually interested in the history and listening with interest to the audio guide, taking us around the building where thousands, maybe millions of immigrants were processed to be allowed to enter America.

9. Smirk at your 3 year old toddler who is wearing headphones and no audio guide but thinks he’s just like his big sister. Chuckle when he picks up a phone in the exhibition where there is oral history on a loop and says ‘it’s Nana on the phone’. Bribe with Smarties smuggled in from England when he starts to get bored.

10. And leave, feeling like this was money well spent and that we really should have done this earlier in our stay in New York.

11. Trudge home from Bowling Green station and emerge at the other end full of thoughts of the past as well as more pressing thoughts about getting that cup of tea and actually drinking it this time.

12. New York tourist spots? Tick done.


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Not quite how you imagine New York

Coney Island in the cold and at the end of the season. No crowds, no queues to get on rides, pretty much the ideal time to visit. Looking at these photos, you’d never know it was Brooklyn, New York. Great way to spend a Sunday in October.

Along the boardwalk at Coney Island about 2pm.

Along the boardwalk at Coney Island about 2pm.

 

 

 

 

Just before leaving around 5pm, the view along the beach at Coney Island.

Just before leaving around 5pm, the view along the beach at Coney Island.


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Not a bear in sight

Sunday was a beautiful day here in New York. The rest of the week’s weather looks rubbish, so we decided to go on a day trip to Bear Mountain. Turns out we aren’t the only ones who look at weather forecasts and the rest of New York made the 75 mile trek north to share the roads with us. So much so that after a lovely stop off at Welch Lake, with my fabulous Bagel Bob picnic, that the entire road ground to a halt because there was so much traffic.

We carefully made our way to junction 19 only to find that the only road into Bear Mountain was shut. A park ranger, who looked about 12, was fending  off angry motorists who were, unsurprisingly a bit put out that no one had bothered to tell them at junction 18 that they couldn’t get into the park because it was jam packed already. When we got to this point, the woman in the car in front of us was so angry her daughter had to restrain her physically to stop her lamping the poor ranger. Not a great sight for J to see as I took him for a well earned pee in a bush nearby. I wouldn’t have minded not knowing at junction 18 if I could have then turned around at this point, but no, we then had to crawl through another 2 or 3 miles before we could do that. I think the parks department could do with sorting that one out, it can’t be the first time the park got busy on a warm Autumnal day on a holiday weekend (Monday is Columbus Day).

So we consoled ourselves to having driven all the way for nothing, thinking we probably should have left earlier. We got to the roundabout to take us back the way we came and the road to the other entrance to Bear Mountain was clear, so we went round the roundabout again, drove down the road to be confronted with another barrier and another park ranger type, this time not 12 years old. He waved us on, and we drove into the park, thinking that can’t be right, someone’s going to stop us. But we kept going and somehow, despite all the traffic from before, we drove up Bear Mountain with no one else following us. It was quite surreal. We got to the peak, parked and had a bit of a wander and it was fine. Where was everyone? There were certainly people there, but surely all that traffic was coming here? Well, no, actually, it looks like they were all going to the Oktoberfest at the base of the mountain and if it weren’t for people wandering about with huge beer steins, you’d never have known.

It was totally worth it. From the peak you can see the buildings of New York City in the far distance. You can breathe fresh air! It wasn’t quite in its full ‘fall’ glory, but there was  a lot of colour around. And there are deer. Very tame, cute, bambi style deer who let you take their picture. And the only bear I saw was a lady holding a young baby in a furry bear type all in one job who didn’t look very scary at all.

Bear Mountain, look for New York City skyline on horizon on right hand side.

The view from the top of Bear Mountain, look for the New York City skyline on the horizon on right hand side.


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Introducing the Dag Dog

It’s all go in New York today as the 193 members of the United Nations get together for the meeting of the General Assembly. Luckily the UN building is not in our part of town but I wouldn’t touch the FDR driveway today, especially if the President is around. The roads jam up, the subway stops and there are a lot of scary looking black cars going very fast. Can you guess which one contains the President – bit like the card game ‘chase the lady’ or whatever it’s called.

I am reminded of our recent visit to the UN. You can turn up as a tourist and have a look around but only on a pre-booked tour. Our South Korean guide was gushing in her admiration for her fellow countryman, Ban Ki-moon, current Secretary General. We got to have a look in the various meeting rooms, fitted out by the Scandinavian countries, for some IKEA style wooden calm. Couldn’t seen inside the General Assembly building as it was being finished off for this week’s meeting. But overall it’s interesting to see, apart from the walk through various corridors that remind you that you are an unimportant person in a very important but functional administration building – off white walls, peeling paint and a distinct lack of light.

Anyhow, having taken in all that information and bought my UN pencil and mug, we emerged into the sunlight of 1st Avenue and wandered over to Dag’s. It is named after Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations who died in a plane crash on his way to a mission in the Congo. I’m sure he would have been proud to have his name associated with a library in the UN building but to be the name of an outdoor cafe just off 1st Avenue? Not sure about that one. I also think he might have been slightly horrified to have a hot dog named after him. Yes, the Dag Dog. R had one and he said its combination of cheddar cheese, grilled onions, applewood bacon and mustard was a diplomatic success. Well, no he didn’t really, but he should have. Looked like a greasy hot dog to me.

 

United Nations building as seen from 1st Avenue

United Nations building as seen from 1st Avenue


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Not a Ewing in sight

I have recently returned from a 3 day, child free trip to Dallas. I can confirm:

  1. it is phenomenally hot there, with a peak of 38 degrees, it is a searing, dry heat pretty much unbearable;
  2. there is no one on the pavements because of 1 above;
  3. every building is air conditioned so severely that you need to carry a jumper so as not freeze in side, this is bizarre;
  4. some men actually wear Stetsons. Honest. It’s true. No irony. Nothing.
  5. that you will hum the Dallas theme tune when arriving from the airport because you can’t help it;
  6. the buildings do not appear in panels of 3 as per the Dallas opening credits, although they probably should to make them more interesting;
  7. there is the most amazing herd of life size bronze steers (cows with horns) running down a hillside next to City Hall that are being herded by a cowboy. It’s a great piece of public art;
  8. there’s a Henry Moore piece outside City Hall which is huge and so smooth you have to touch it;
  9. the Dallas Museum of Art is lovely, has a wonderful Edward Hopper painting and is open late on a Thursday; and,
  10. that to walk around Downtown Dallas safely, don’t walk around after dark, walk quickly and don’t show your phone or valuables, there’s an edge to it and a lot odd people hanging around.


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Busts in the Bronx

The weather’s calmed down a bit so J and I have been off on our New York adventures. Today that involved a trip north on the 4 train way up into the Bronx to Burnside Avenue. Not quite like the Upper East Side, that’s for sure, but home to a little known treasure hidden in the vast grounds of the Bronx Community College, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

I couldn’t quite believe how this could be in an obscure bit of the Bronx, but over 100 years ago the Chancellor of New York University decided to build a monument to mark the great men of America. This involved building a kind of 630 foot open air collonade. Basically an arc of columns under a patterned roof and between each column sits the bust of a famous American.

 

I loved the phrase written into the iron gates as you enter the collonade:

“Enter with joy that those within have lived.”

For me, many of the names were obscure but maybe for Americans they would know them instantly.

The statesmen section included many Presidents: Washington, Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln. Benjamin Franklin stands proud too – we like him because he invented the lightning rod, which I thought was pretty cool. There’s Alexander Graham Bell and Edgar Allan Poe, a new favourite since my visit to the Morgan Library last year. And of the 100-ish busts there are ten women and I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of any of them. They seemed to be mostly in education and in the anti slavery movement. And I think Franklin D Roosevelt, President until 1945 is the newest one of the lot and his bust is distinctive because it’s literally just his head, unlike all the others which included their shoulders.

I liked it. I thought it was a really peaceful, thoughtful place. I think in winter you can see right across to the Cloisters and possibly the Hudson River, but there were too many trees full of leaves to tell either way. I don’t know that it gets many visitors, we were the only ones in the hour I spent there. J enjoyed checking out the beards, he has a thing about them for some reason.

It might be worth the trip for anyone interested in US history, but I would recommend dressing down and not looking too much like a tourist, it’s just not that kind of place. Check out the photos below, apologies they are a bit dark, but the light was not in my favour, but you get the idea.

Entrance to the collonade

Entrance to the collonade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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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The Bronx is Burning

More like I was burning. It was so hot today, nearly 30 degrees on the unofficial first day of summer in New York. We were intrepid and headed up to the far northern end of the 6 line, way up in the Bronx, to visit Orchard Beach. This is a wide arc of sand just off Pelham Bay Park, which is New York’s largest park. It’s nothing like its posh cousin, Central Park. It’s a bit more like Epping Forest than Hyde Park, if you like a London comparison. I think every resident of the Bronx and us decided to visit the beach today, which is Memorial Day.

In the UK you got a bank holiday today too, the usual end of May one that coincides with a week off school. Here, Memorial Day is huge. It’s ostensibly about remembering those who served their country, but in reality it’s a day off with an excuse to go to the beach if it’s hot, or take advantage of the vast amounts of sales going on in the various large department stores.

I’m not sure I’d recommend Pelham Bay Park as a tourist destination. It could do with a bit of TLC, a lot of litter clearance and more taxis. It is a long way out and if you want to get anywhere, you have to use the bus. Most of the time the buses are air conditioned to chill factor minus 100 but today, packed to the gills with mostly nearly naked beach goers, it was sweltering. I was hot. Very hot. Poor J, he ended up in the luggage rack, there was so little room to move. E held on to a pole for dear life and I did wonder if one of us might end up going through the windscreen there were so many people at the front of the bus.

The beach was pretty good and long enough at 1.1 miles to compete with the Brooklyn Bridge in length and volume of people on a busy day. When it was originally conceived in the 1930s it was known as the New York Riviera. It has a once grand pavilion, complete with tall columns and a certain art deco feel. But now, it’s unloved, boarded up and pretty much falling apart. What a shame there’s been no investment in it. Although to be honest, I think the New York Parks Department should spend some money and focus on sorting out the toilets first because they are awful.


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Where Fifth Avenue begins

Washington Square Park

It’s rather odd standing under the arch in Washington Square Park staring up Fifth Avenue as cars come straight at you but turn right to go around the park. This is the source of Fifth Avenue. What a great place to put a massive great arch dedicated to the first President of the United States. I think he would have been impressed.

Washington Square Park is not square, it’s rectangular; it’s not much of a park because it’s mostly paved over with criss crossing pavements and a great big fountain, but it is named after George Washington. It’s also surrounded by New York University and filled with students.

I sat for a while in the park, the first time I have been able to read outside without freezing whilst J snoozes away in the buggy. The cacophony of noise is impressive: sirens wailing, cars revving, car horns beeping, people chattering, saxophone wailing, babies wailing, birds tweeting and of course dogs barking. It’s somehow a welcome respite from egg hunting, where I have explored from Chinatown via Little Italy into SoHo and down through Greenwich Village. What a fabulous way to explore New York City. Let’s leave all the eggs in place so that all visitors can discover New York this way too.