Quick note – this adventure was back in August 2015. Sorry about the delay. We’ve got a bunch more trip notes and half-written posts waiting though, so while life has got in the way of finishing much up until now we’ll hopefully catch up during a bit of welcome downtime over the next few weeks.
I’ve been looking forward to visiting New York City for as long as I can remember. The people, the food, the culture, the size, the busyness of it all; NYC has just always appealed. I couldn’t wait.
However, in a moment of rash thrift, when we booked the flights we’d opted to save a few pounds by flying via Iceland and a long stopover rather than direct, so it was there we went first. We figured we’d just sleep in the airport or something before the second leg, rather than bus into town and spend money on a hotel.
That was a stupid idea. In retrospect, I don’t understand why that ever looked good. I think we might be too old for that sort of thing now. We had about a 12 hour layover, and Reykjavik airport has enough distractions to last perhaps 30 minutes. There was of course nowhere comfortable to sleep, and so most of our first Iceland experience was spent sitting on a bench alternating between reading, huddling for warmth and trying to doze a little. Great times. But never mind, we’d be back through on the return journey to try again, and at least we learnt a valuable lesson about when not to be cheap.
We landed at JFK and caught the train into the city without any hassle, checked into our hotel (Doubletree by Hilton, in Chelsea. Suggested slogan: ‘crappier than you’d expect’), and with a few hours before our mates arrived, went out to see the neighbourhood. It was incredible – London is busy, but New York is just on a whole new level. The roads are wider, sidewalks busier, buildings taller, noise louder; I loved it. After a stroll down to Times Square we decided we needed a bite to eat, and happened to chance on what turned out to be the nicest pizza place ever! It was basically not much more than a hole-in-the-wall place with a few tables, run by a guy who appeared to be Cuban, and looked a little grubby, but the food was both amazing and very cheap. We never found another place the same, and we reminisced about it for the rest of the trip.
Fun fact about Times Square: the name comes from 1904, when the New York Times moved their headquarters there. Prior to that it was called Longacre Square. Well, maybe that wasn’t so fun, but I read it while we were in New York and thought I’d share it anyway in case you’d ever wondered. Now you know.
An hour or so later, back at the hotel, the first of the rest of our group arrived: Rob and Kris, fresh from Washington DC but all the way from New Zealand before that. We’d not seen either of the guys for over a year and we decided to have a beer to mark the occasion, which in turn marked my first foray into the disaster that is trying to pay for any sort of food or drink in America.
Each beer was attractively priced at $5, but as I pulled out a $20 note the barman presented me with a bill for $23.85, or something like that. I thought it was a little weird to explicitly demand a set tip, but just went along with it, gave the guy $25 and collected my change. I found out later that the extra money was of course only the taxes, which is never part of the stated price, and I’d stiffed the guy out of his tip (customarily $1 per drink served, though we obviously only ever paid that if we were expecting to have more than one drink in a place). It never got much better over the next couple weeks, with every bill we paid having only a slight link to the prices we’d seen earlier on the menu. I know tipping and additional taxes are ‘just how we do things here’ over in America, but sorry guys – that is a stupid way to pay for food, y’all.
Eventually we made our way to a German beer hall for some dinner, which was admittedly not the most traditional of first meals in America but very nice all the same, and after stumbling through the bill at the end of that went off to check out the Empire State Building at night. It stands out in the daytime skyline, but at night – basically just another building. Check it out while the sun is up.
The next morning we woke ourselves up with a coffee and a cream cheese bagel the size of a dinner plate apiece, and headed off to find a fairly recent NYC attraction – the High Line. Once a raised railway line, the High Line has now been converted into an awesome green-space walkway through the heart of the city, running about 20 blocks through Manhattan’s west side. It’s a cool experience to get up off the street and stroll along between the buildings, surrounded by all sorts of plants – I know it may sound a little dull, but trust me when I say it is definitely worth a visit.
At the end of the walk we checked out Chelsea Markets (hectic) and grabbed a bite in Gansevoort Martket (extremely cool, nearby to Chelsea but much better), had a bit of a stroll around Greenwich Village, and then headed back up towards the Flatiron Building. In a tribute to how badly wrong professional critics almost always are, the initial response to the Flatiron after it was built was apparently not overly positive. The public loved it though, and still do 113 years later – so much so that the surrounding district has even been named after it.
We spent the late afternoon in a restaurant/beer garden on the rooftop of a place called Eataly, which is a great little Italian-themed food hall (in a city of very mixed coffee, you can get a proper expresso here). We’d booked a table on the roof, but although the beer list was impressively long it was exceeded in extravagance by the price alongside each option, so we didn’t stay for too many. It was also actually incredibly hot up there – maybe we’ve just gotten used to English weather, but I was pretty glad to get back down in the shade of the streets after an hour or so in the direct sun. We finished off our day with burgers in a sports bar, grilling Kris about the finer points of baseball in preparation for the following day – we were going to see the Yankees.
Yankee Stadium is up in the Bronx, and by the time we got there it was already turning into another sweltering day. But that was alright, because it turned out we were visiting on Free Hat Day! Everyone through the door got a free Yankees straw cowboy hat. How cool is that? America sure knows how to make a sports event awesome. My head is unfortunately enormous so mine didn’t fit very well, but I still appreciated the thought.
I loved baseball. I loved the stadium, I loved the people going up and down the isles selling food, I loved the enthusiasm in the crowd, I loved the game, and most of all I loved it because I really didn’t expect to at all. I can definitely see why it is such a popular sport in America. We also got to see Alex Rodriguez play; for those readers who don’t know A-Rod, he’s currently on a contract worth a total $275million and is also renowned for ingesting a lot of steroids at various points in his career. He’s off those now, we’re told, which doesn’t seem to be doing his game any favours. We didn’t see him hit a single ball. The Yankees lost.
After the game, B and I left the guys and went off to have dinner in Little Italy. Finding it was a bit of a weird experience actually – we were aware that Chinatown and Little Italy were fairly close by, but had no idea the switch would be so abrupt. We were walking along Hester Street wondering at every single shop sign being written in Chinese, then all of a sudden turned the corner onto Mulberry and found ourselves right in the middle of Little Italy. We found a place called Taormina – “John Gotti’s favourite restaurant” – where we were seated next to three lovely ladies who spent the evening regaling us and everyone else around with tales of how much they hated their respective husbands. We couldn’t have asked for better entertainment while we ate, and the food was very nice as well.
We had a look at the actual Chinatown once we’d finished dinner (read: once the husband-haters left and we grew bored), which wasn’t quite as cool as I’d been expecting. London’s version is actually much better, I reckon, and we didn’t hang around. As the evening was nice and warm we decided to walk the 30 or so blocks north back to the hotel. Along the way we passed a heap of cool little bars and restaurants on almost every corner, which I’d have loved to have had time to visit, but of course we just didn’t have time. That’s the only problem I had with New York – there just wasn’t enough time to see it all.
But of course we still had a few more days to try, before heading off on our big ol’ New England road trip. Part 2 coming soon.