nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Hey, Duke

Because it is so cold still, I continue to try and to find new and interesting things to do indoors with J, who is now 2 and 3 months. I’ve taken him to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum a couple of times now. It hosts free toddler classes but they are in Harlem. The actual museum is on 91st Street at 5th Avenue, where it is housed in the enormous, grand mansion that was originally built for the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. It’s a beautiful site undergoing massive renovation and is due to re-open later this year. In the meantime, it has moved its educational activities to a modern space on 110th Street overlooking the north end of Central Park. The contrast between the two locations couldn’t be any more stark. Even at 91st Street, 5th Avenue is smart and the park well used. Go up another 20 or so streets and you are in Harlem proper. It feels different and looks different with the large, daunting correctional facility looming over the newly refurbished playground in the park.

This end of the park is also home to a huge statue of Duke Ellington. I am embarrassed to confess I only noticed it today – not sure how I missed it as it’s got to be 30 feet tall. He stands proud on the north eastern corner of the park, in the middle of a roundabout. He stands next to his piano and looks like he’s commanding the traffic going down 5th Avenue. Underneath the plinth he stands on are a number of naked ladies who hold him in place.

I’m sure in the summer it looks good, with the trees in their full green finery, but ultimately this isn’t a great area and not one you’d see any but the most dedicated music enthusiast visit. It’s not one you’d want to hang around in, anyway. Here are some pics from three different vantage points, whilst I was trying not to be run over or lose J; they should give you an idea of the size and setting and to save you the trip.

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Duke 2









Duke 3







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Nelson Mandela slept there

So in the cold wastes of New York, I find myself in the same bedroom that once saw Nelson Mandela and other dignitaries who visited the Mayor of New York. The official residence of the Mayor is called Gracie Mansion and it’s only a few blocks from our apartment. It was built in 1799 but has only been the home the Mayors of New York since 1945; prior to that was mostly in private hands.It’s pretty fancy inside, having been lovingly restored under Bloomberg’s watch, but he never lived there, preferring his much fancier town house on 79th Street by Central Park. The new Mayor, Bill de Blasio, is moving in soon, so the tour that I went on today is unlikely to continue much longer. Good timing from me, then.

I did wonder why de Blasio would want to move from super trendy Park Slope in Brooklyn to Gracie Mansion. It’s right next to the FDR, which is a really busy road running down the east side of Manhattan. It does have great views of the East River, but then so does our apartment and we don’t have to look at cars racing by all day. It’s basically a creaky floored old museum, stuffed to rafters with old furniture and fittings either on loan or given by previous residents.

It’s amusing to see the graffiti in the glass made by the children of previous Mayors, when everything else looks so perfect. Good job de Blasio’s kids are in their late teens, because I wouldn’t put a toddler anywhere near that place. Even the tour guides made us cling to the bannister when going up the grand staircase, as health and safety went safely mad in there. Not sure it would be a comfy place to chill out and watch the telly, but then again, if you’re the Mayor of New York, maybe you’re just a bit too busy.

Take a look for yourself at the Gracie Mansion website.

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Ohh, I feel so homesick now

One of my New York friends has just pointed out to me the 36 hours in Hampstead article in yesterday’s New York Times. Hampstead is NW3. It’s filled with all the places I know and love – it majors on places to eat and it’s spot on. It even includes British Military Fitness, which I miss desperately, even after nearly a year away – and my abs miss them too. Do read this and go to Hampstead for 36 hours.

Two more years…

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Medieval Manhattan

Ah, I hear you say, but America wasn’t really around in medieval times. Sure, that’s true, but it doesn’t stop NYC from importing treasures from Europe and displaying them in a made up castle in the far reaches of north Manhattan. I kept seeing reference to the Cloisters in tourist blurb and at the Metropolitan Museum but couldn’t quite imagine what it meant. So on a hot and sunny day earlier this week J and I ventured up the A line all the way to 190th Street, which is a very long way away. And naturally it also involved a ridiculous amount of stairs, curses to you stairs, but I think my arms are rather more sculpted than they used to be, so I shouldn’t complain, really.

John D. Rockefeller Jr funded the Cloisters that emerged from the grounds of Fort Tryon Park in the 1930s. An architect called Charles Collens designed the building to look a bit like a medieval monastery and actually included relics into the construction and I think he did a pretty good job. It’s the home of the medieval collection of the Metropolitan Museum. The cloisters themselves are tranquil and beautifully landscaped and great fun to tootle round if you are 20 months old but hopeless if you are the mother of the 20 month old trying to keep him off the plants, climbing the walls and stopping him from falling into the gardens 20 feet below. But besides that the interior is great if you like looking at really old stuff, medieval stuff isn’t really my thing, but we did get to see the 1930s bowels of the building as we got special dispensation to use the original staff lift to go back up to the entrance – too many stairs. Again.

Fort Tryon Park is a revelation. Snuggled next to the Hudson River, which is very wide at this point, it is an almost tropical haven from the density of the rest of Manhattan. It was hard to believe we were still on the island at all. I doubt many tourists get this far, but on a sunny, hot day, it’s well worth the trip.

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Some observations on summer

Here are my thoughts on how to survive the summer so far:

  1. Don’t wear very much
  2. Wear a colour that doesn’t show up sweat, because you will, a lot
  3. When crossing avenues or streets, lurk in the shadow of the nearest building and don’t boil in the sun waiting for the crossing
  4. Like iced drinks, tea or coffee, everyone is clutching one
  5. Don’t be in a hurry
  6. Carry a lot of water or a lot of dollars in order to top up at the many kiosks and carts selling water – most expensive so  far has been $3
  7. Visit museums, galleries and other tourist attractions for the air conditioning – but be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds of people doing exactly the same thing
  8. Be grateful you don’t live in the UK where a heat wave is greeted with mild panic and with little air conditioning, it will be awful
  9. Be thankful you live in a city that knows that every year for around 4 months it will be very, very hot, so it’s geared up for it
  10. And don’t breathe through your nose: NYC really smells in the heat

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1000 steps to Queens

That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. I bravely ventured out with J and E to the New York Hall of Science. This rather grandly named attraction is based way out in the Flushing Meadows area of Queens. Practically at the end of the 7 train line, this is a world away from our part of Manhattan. And when you are doing this with a heavy toddler in a buggy in the hot, humid weather of NYC it’s hard work. Not one person helped with the steps all the way there and there are a lot.

The Hall of Science is based in a converted 1960s building that was originally built as a pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s a great hands on space for young kids to learn about science and has an excellent playground, which is great for 7 year olds and hopeless for toddlers. Just hope they are asleep so they don’t get jealous.

Next door to the Hall of Science is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, an oasis of greenery and calm in the heart of Queens and home to the Queens Zoo, sister to its more famous sibling in Central Park. It’s lovely. Small, but lovely with a rather impressive elk with the biggest antlers I’ve ever seen. There’s an old fashioned carousel and a petting zoo with some very friendly goats who love to be stroked. And in the middle is the most peculiar building called Terrace on the Park.

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I have just looked at the website for it and it appears to be much flasher in its Internet form than in real life. From the outside it looks really run down, a bit unloved and frankly a bit of a concrete monster. It completely dominates the park, looming over the zoo. Not sure I’d fancy getting married there, but I suppose the views must be good.

Oh, and on the way back I managed to look pathetic enough to get help with the buggy up all those blasted stairs all the way home. Just don’t be on the subway past 4.30 in the afternoon as it’s as packed as the London underground and deeply unpleasant.

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It’s like looking for the end of the rainbow

Well, that’s how it felt when we landed in Dumbo and couldn’t find the end of the Brooklyn Bridge. How’s that for a bizarre sentence? Dumbo is a district of Brooklyn, so called because it’s Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Sounds attractive, eh? It’s surprisingly nice. We took the East River Ferry from 34th Street and chugged our way down to Dumbo, which seems to be more under the Brooklyn Bridge than the Manhattan Bridge, but Dubbo isn’t quite so fun sounding. There is a beautiful restored 1922 carousel called Jane’s Carousel, where your kid can ride for $2 a time and go round and round on a horse with an odd expression. Check it out at: http://janescarousel.com/.

The whole area has been redeveloped so that you can sit along the water front and admire the Statue of Liberty some way off in the distance; watch the helicopters flittering about taking tourists for expensive trips to see the great lady and watch the boats of all shapes and sizes make their way up and down the East River. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but only when it’s hot.

Walking along the Brooklyn Bridge has been on our to do list for a while, inspired by Miranda meeting Steve on it in a key episode of Sex and the City. Well, I was inspired, but I digress. And even though we were directly under it (and it is huge), we struggled to find the Brooklyn end of it. It just seems to go on forever. We could see the pedestrians on it, we could see the cars but we couldn’t figure out how to get on the damn thing. We keep walking along the side of it, traffic fumes mixing well with the heat of the day and eventually find a tiny set up stairs off a dank pathway underneath the bridge.

And because we had chosen a busy weekend to visit, it was packed. The pedestrian walkway is separate and above the road for the cars and you have to share it with cyclists. It’s a fine line between trying to pass the slowest, photograph taking tourist and not getting mown down by a crazy cyclist as they speed along their half of the pavement. And it doesn’t help that someone decided to wrap half the bridge in plastic, so you can’t even see the views most of the time. And did I say it was long? Yes, it’s very long at 1.1 miles or 1.8 km. No wonder it took 13 years to build it in the late 19th Century. And no, there is no crock of gold at the end.

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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.)