As a present for my 40th birthday, Rach had arranged a wonderful long weekend in New York for us. Although this is one of both of our favourite cities – this was the first time we would go together.
24th November 2016: New York, USA
As a special treat and thanks to many company air-miles, we flew First Class from Heathrow to New York on Virgin Atlantic. It was the first time I’d ever flown First Class and it was a very special experience! From the welcome at the private entrance at the airport where everything is straight through, to the amazing dinner in the airport lounge, the plane cabin with our very comfortable flat bed seats and not forgetting the in flight bar area for drinks and nibbles – everything was hugely enjoyable and I felt very spoilt! We had chosen a day flight since we wanted to enjoy every minute of the experience and I think we were like kids in a sweet shop trying everything we could!
As we were travelling east, it was still light by the time we came into approach at JFK. Across the sub-urban sprawl of the outward reaches of the city, the famous outline of Manhattan island was just visible through the haze and I felt the same excitement towards this city as I did the first time, twenty years ago.
We took a taxi to The James hotel in Tribeca on Manhattan island where we booked in for a few nights in a lovely room which felt modern yet cosy with a view towards the Hudson river. By now it was beginning to get dark and we already had a 101 things we wanted to do – and this evening we wanted to head down to the 9-11 memorial.
It was about a twenty minute walk through Tribeca and Lower Manhattan to get down to the World Trade Center. There was a lot of building work going on around the iconic new building – One World Trade Center so it was a bit fiddly finding our way but once we reached the square, the site was both beautiful and incredibly emotional. The last time I was here, the mammoth twin towers of the World Trade Center were still standing but now in there place, was two square shaped, sunken water pools placed to match the large outline of where the towers used to be. More water cascaded into the pools from all sides and it was lit up with soft lighting and around the upper perimeter where we stood, a continous brass plaque was inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died on that terrible day.
Beyond the pools stood the rather amazing looking museum entrance – a large white building shaped a bit like a hunched up porcupine but whose long white quills where arranged in two perfect rows along its back. We would be coming back here tomorrow to visit the museum but we wanted to see it lit up at night and we both felt very moved.
Rachael had booked us into drinks at a favourite bar of hers called Tiny’s which we had passed on our walk, about half way from the hotel. Apparently it was a place she used to frequent from her days at GAP when she would enjoy a night out with her work colleagues. As we walked back, we noticed that many of the restaurants we passed had closed which seemed odd for a big city like New York and we were glad we had booked somewhere since finding an alternative might have been tricky! At Tiny’s, we were shown upstairs to a small table and there was a great buzz to the place which was getting full very quickly. Our waiter was friendly but before we could order any drinks, he presented us with the menu and announcing the several very tasty sounding courses of tonight’s dinner. It suddenly dawned on us why so many restaurants were closed and why the meal was what it was – it was Thanksgiving! This is an American holiday that has similar traditions to how we in the UK might celebrate Christmas where most people travel home to their families and everyone tends to eat a huge turkey dinner. Despite only having come in for a drink, we realised that we weren’t going to find food anywhere else and this all sounded very nice – so we proceeded to enjoy a very lovely evening! We even got chatting to an American family on the next table who were out celebrating themselves and it was a lovely evening.
25th November 2016: 9-11 Memorial and The High Line, New York, USA
Today, we returned to the World Trade Center area to visit the museum. There was already a growing queue to get in but we had booked tickets on line which sped up the process somewhat. Once we were in the porcupine building, escalators took us down underneath the square and into the museum. We were beneath the foundations of the twin towers – and there were stark reminders of them everywhere. The twisted girders that used to line the sides of each building; the staircase via which many people were able to reach safety; and even the huge metal plates that held back the Hudson river when the buildings were first constructed which were now exposed.
The museum was incredibly moving and a honest reminder of what happened back in 2001 without any dramatisation or judgement. It focused on remembering the victims, the survivors and the people of the emergency services who bravely did everything they could to save lives in such terrifying conditions. In one area, there was a partially crushed New York fire truck and the most moving part for me was listening to a fire-woman talk about the fire-crew who owned it and their part on the day. From the radio communications the crew had with their base, she was able to describe where they were at different points in the morning, how they were able to rescue people and how they kept going up trying to find more people. The fire-woman also spoke about their final broadcast on about the 38th floor just before the building finally collapsed.
Sober from the experience in the museum, we took a long walk back up towards the hotel and then carried on to reach an the High Line. This is all that is left of an old elevated railway track which in recent years has been reclaimed and turned into a pedestrianised walkway. Many wild plants and grasses which had grown wild over the years of abandonment are now protected and the walkway follows the tracks for about 1.5 miles. There are great views at various points of the surrounding city but mainly it is just a lovely walk with many artisans at points en-route displaying their wares. We followed it all the way to the end and then explored more of the area back at ground level.
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink in the rather trendy roof bar with fantastic views towards the brightly lit One World Trade Center building and all around.
26th November 2016: Mid Town, New York, USA
The area of Mid Town was our focus for today’s exploration and it was a day of walking and many shops. We grabbed a yellow cab to take us up-town and were dropped off a few blocks away from Times Square where I had hoped to look at a camera shop but it was shut. We wandered the streets towards the main shopping area and took in many famous landmarks. The bright neon frontage of the Radio City Music Hall where famous bands from the last 100 years had played. Times Square which was densely packed with cars, tourists and many people dressed as Super-Heroes apparently wanting their picture taken. Trump Tower belonging to the new US President was surrounded in armed police and metal railings with many protesters outside who didn’t agree with his election – not that we wanted to see Trump Tower but Tiffany’s was just beneath it and we wanted to look at a couple of jewelry items. We passed through some big department stores including Bloomingdale’s which even I (as a typically shop-ignorant man) had heard of.
27th November 2016: The Rock, Central Park and The Met, New York, USA
Heading back up to Mid Town, the next item on our ‘must see’ list was to head to the ‘Top of the Rock’. Although there are more well known skyscrapers such as the Empire State building, the Rockefeller Center is thought to have the best views – most notably of the Empire State building itself – and it is known more locally as The Rock, hence ‘the Top of the Rock’.
Rach is not a lover of heights but did well in the express elevator despite my fascination with the glass ceiling showing the speed and height of our ascent. The building itself is very architectural in a pleasing art-deco style. The upper most floor has been converted into a large, 360 degree observation deck at 260 meters above the streets below. To the south, the unmistakable Empire State building stands – 166 meters taller than ‘The Rock’ and beautiful against the backdrop of Lower Manhattan. On the north side, the huge rectangular gap in the buildings which is Central Park filled with trees in their autumnal colours and a large lake at the far end. There were amazing views on all sides and once Rach got used to the heights, we enjoyed just pointing out all the interesting things we could see.
From the rock, we walked up the Avenue of Americas until we reached Central Park. It was a lovely autumn day and the sun-light filled the red, brown and yellow leaves with amazing colours. We strolled around without worrying about where we were heading and just enjoyed the peaceful contrast to the busy city and watching life go by.
Our wanderings finally took us to the Met museum where we wanted to dip in and see a few bits. It was a great museum with many different areas and filled with paintings; sculptures; clothes and ornaments and many more. My favourite was the Egyptian area where an entire temple had been rebuild including guarding sphinxes and obelisks.
By the end of the museum, we were exhausted after a great day of exploration and headed back for dinner in a nearby restaurant.
28th November 2016: Brooklyn Bridge and Pier, New York, USA
This was our last day in New York and we get up very early to take a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to the pier of the same name. The taxi got us close enough and we took a walk down through a small park onto the pier itself. Across the East River in front of us layer the lower end of the island of Manhattan and from behind us the sun rise lit the buildings in a beautiful soft, morning light. The graceful arc of the Brooklyn Bridge framed the view and it was definitely worth the early morning.
We walked back along the base of the bridge trying to find a small door way which we had read would lead us up via a flight of stairs onto the bridge itself (and avoid the much longer walk to join where the road did). With the help of a couple of locals – we eventually found it and were able to traverse the pretty raised walkway straight down the middle of the bridge with the suspension wires around us like a giant spiders web.
The walk continued through the east side of lower Manhattan which had a different more charming character to the west. We were in no rush and we explored different streets, went in a few shops and had at least one “cwoffee” as the New Yorker’s seemed to pronounce it.
That evening, we enjoyed our traditional ‘gala meal’ at the Gramercy Tavern which was delicious in every way. The service was exceptional and the food was devine. We enjoyed a fair amount of wine since this would only help us sleep on the flight home!
Finally, it was time to pick up our bags and take a taxi back to JFK. The evening traffic gave us a fair amount of concern thinking we may not make it on time but we made it with 1.5 hours to go until our flight. Compared to the amazing outward journey – we were in the ‘cheap seats’ of Business Class on the way back but the wine from the Gramercy Tavern helped us deal with that!
New York has been an amazing few days and we both know it won’t be long until we are back here again.