Three years ago, the Fletches did a roadtrip to Vegas and the Californian coast; this time it was all about the North-East. And what better time to do it than in the fall to catch the amazing New England foliage? We decided to bookend the ‘leaf-peeping’ with time spent in the craziness of New York, and the relative tranquillity of Boston.
So grab a doughnut and a coffee or two, sit back and enjoy!
Over there and overwhelmed
The Fletches arrive at the Holiday Inn Express Times Square, slightly bemused by the ridiculous traffic encountered on the journey to Manhattan from JFK. A 5:30 alarm call plus a 7-hour flight – it would be easy to call it a day and sleep til morning, but we decide to power on through and battle the anticipated exhaustion another day. A quick check of the arrival day itinerary, a map consultation and we head off in the direction of Broadway and Times Square.
What can I say about Times Square that hasn’t already been said? It’s tourist central; flashing lights, tacky souvenir shops, people demanding money for items they are pushing into your hand…
The unexpected hot temperatures take us by surprise as we escape the human zoo that is Times Square to slightly less manic pastures. In need of a cool drink (preferably something a tad alcoholic) we stumble upon Blockheads on West 50th. A ‘Bulldog’ each later and we are feeling a little more mellow as the Frozen Margarita/Sangria/Bottle of Beer concoction seeps into our weary bodies.
We finish our drinks in good time to make our way to the Top of the Rock for sunset. Except we can’t find it. Ever heard the saying “can’t see the wood for the trees?” Well, we can’t see the very tall skyscraper for all of the other very tall skyscrapers blocking our view. And despite being right next to it, we end up crumpled in a weeping heap on Avenue of the Americas begging passers-by to tell us who had moved the Rock. As it turns out, we are right next to it. In fact, we are practically in the queue. Which is now long, slow-moving and gives us no chance of ascending to the top whilst there is still daylight. We’re nothing if not flexible, so we decide that the sensible option is to visit tomorrow…
We leave the Rock behind for now, safe in the knowledge that unless it moves in the next 24 hours, we will be able to successfully find it again. We have slightly more success finding Grand Central Terminal; however, we barely notice the beautiful architecture, starry ceiling or iconic clock as we hurtle through in search of restrooms (there are some in the dining concourse for those that may be interested). Bladder emptied of frozen margarita, we return to the main concourse to oooh and aaah like proper tourists.
It’s barely 8:30; but we’re spent. We’re overwhelmed, slightly jetlagged and already suffering from sore feet from pounding the NYC streets. Our first meal in New York consists of a shared sandwich and bag of potato chips, eaten picnic style back in our 24th floor hotel room. (N.B. This will become a recurring theme of this trip!). Tomorrow we will be much more energetic, and ready to face all that New York can throw at us…
Happy Birthday to Me…
Things we didn’t do yesterday that we did today: Top of the Rock; NY Public Library
Things we didn’t do today to do tomorrow: Walk Brooklyn Bridge
Much more energetic today as promised. Only problem is, this occurs at 5:30am. “You awake?” “Yep”. You awake?” “Yep”. Our body clocks are still on UK time – maybe the early night last night was a bad idea. We snooze until it’s no longer pitch black outside and the ubiquitous sound of car horns begins. A Holiday Inn breakfast sets us up and we head off and out before 8am – an event which is likely to become less common as the holiday wears on.
Times Square in the morning is much less overwhelming than our initial experience yesterday. We wave at the TV cameras (“Good morning America!”) and we head towards Rockefeller Center. After last night’s navigation breakdown, we are confident in our geographical knowledge and easily locate the ticket office for Top Of The Rock. 8:30 in the morning is clearly a good time to go, there’s only a handful of people in the queue before us. We have the obligatory photograph of us simulating the famous image of the construction workers eating their lunch on a girder and we are then allowed into the lift which whisks us up to the 67th floor.
We took the advice of those who suggested we choose TOTR over Empire State Building for the following reasons:
a) The view of Central Park; and
b) You can see the Empire State Building from TOTR. You cannot see the Empire State Building from the Empire State Building.
We spend half an hour or so ooohing and aaahing at the views. They are indeed magnificent, and I can’t think of anywhere finer to begin my 37th year. We continue down Broadway from Rockefeller Center towards the Flatiron Building, stopping for a nose around the NY Public Library. I pity the poor people actually trying to read/study whilst tourists click away around them…
We pause for a Starbucks in the sunshine outside the Flatiron building before facing our biggest challenge yet – negotiating the NY Subway. A quick consultation of the subway app and we’re off to find the R line over to Brooklyn Heights. Except we fail to read the signs and heed the verbal announcements advising that this particular line is not travelling to Brooklyn today. When the penny finally drops (“This train is not…I repeat NOT…travelling to Brooklyn”) we scramble off the train and reassess our options. Our nearest subway station (which does not involve the R line) appears to be Park Place. A short distance on the map; a long distance in reality.
Eventually we are settled on our second subway of the morning, and this time we successfully make it all the way over to Brooklyn Heights. We are turned around slightly on exiting Clark St station, but we soon locate the promenade for those classic Manhattan skyline views. Tummy rumbles suggest that lunchtime is overdue, and we stop at Brooklyn Bridge Garden Bar (NOW CLOSED) for a beer and birthday lunch overlooking the East River. This is followed by the all important ice cream from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. The unplanned time spent this morning at TOTR and the library have pushed our itinerary back by an hour or so, and it dawns on us that walking the Brooklyn Bridge as planned will leave us missing our 3pm 9/11 memorial timeslot. So we make our way back to the subway, promising to revisit Brooklyn and walk the bridge tomorrow.
We return to Park Place. On emerging into the sunlight, we spend a panicked 10 minutes trying to locate the correct direction for the memorial. For such a touristy city, there are very few tourist-friendly information cues available. A map would be nice. Or even a signpost. However, we eventually follow the crowds and make the memorial within the allotted 30 minute time slot.
We show our pre-booked visitors passes once. We show them twice. We are security screened. Our passes are checked a third time, and then a fourth. Eventually we are permitted to enter the memorial site and pay our respects to those that lost their lives in 9/11.
The initial plan was to have a wander round the Financial District and Battery Park; however we are both feeling a little weary and we are eager to rest before the evening’s Circle Line Cruise. Another app consultation, and we work out that we can get an uptown subway from Fulton St to Penn Station. We enter Fulton and we walk. And we walk. And we walk some more. Is this the longest subway platform ever? Eventually we find the correct platform and high-five each other on completing the equivalent of the NY Marathon underground. By the time we alight at Penn Station, I am limping in the manner of a three-legged donkey. Our hotel on W 39th seems so far away, but all too soon we have arrived and able to take the weight off our feet.
For half an hour anyway. Now ensconced in more ‘sensible’ shoes and blister plasters, we make our way down to Pier 83 for the 7pm Harbor Lights cruise. This was well worth the money. Lasting just over 90 minutes, the semi-circle cruise took us from the west Side of the Manhattan to the east and back again, with a cruise by Lady Liberty herself. Our tour guide was fantastic and we left the boat after 90 minutes knowing a lot more about New York before we’d started. Now, where to go for my birthday dinner? Despite all the tempting New York eateries, we give in to the temptation of a Subway. For the second night in a row dinner consists of a bedroom picnic of sandwich and potato chips. Wow, we really know how to rock this city that never sleeps…
Tomorrow…breaking through the pain barrier to traverse Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge!