Saturday, 29 August 2009

New York Day Five

This is it, time ticked away to bring us to our final full day in the Big Apple. By this point we had been on 4 tours of the city, winding through the streets, and now, it was time to take to the water! Our main reason behind this was so that we could get a good view of the Statue of Liberty without having to queue for hours, and because the tour went around the whole perimeter of Manhattan. We sort of forgot about the fact that it was hot - really hot - and we would be on this boat, in the sun, for three hours. Ouch.

It was all very scenic and interesting, but the most memorable part of the tour was our guide, and even now his name has been seared into my brain - Malacky Murray. I shudder. Perhaps it was him that made the three hours really feel like three hours. Murray is a 6 foot-ish, sunglasses wearing, moustache-sporting, ponytail-haired, relentlessly-speaking creature of a man, who - without fail - mentioned his new book 'Unique New York' and the fact that it was now able to buy from Amazon, at least every twenty minutes. He also credited New York with about seven wonders of the world - the Empire State, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island...a fairly big tree...forgetting that maybe the pyramids or Great Wall m
ight like to get in on the list too. Oh, and the fact that New York was the greatest city in the world - he liked to tell us that a lot too.

Old Malacky was full of wisdom, he felt he owed it to his audience to help them 'Find their genius' - as apparently only 15% of people ever find their true talent. Everyone who designed or built the Brooklyn Bridge had found theirs, that's why it was one of the great wonders of the world...? Firstly, the statistic - how it was calculated and how you can quantify it just baffles me. Secondly, how gutted would you be if it turned out that bridge-building was your life talent? Any aspiring poets or future presidents would be very disappointed. But, then if you are in the 85% of people who don't 'find your genius', it's okay, because according to Malacky 'you are who you make people believe you are'. He repeated this several times too. And I can't even be bothered to argue with his strange logic any more, I'll just hope he smoked something very strong before he boarded the ship. Anyway, he certainly made an impression!

After the boat trip we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for some lunch, trying not to dribble over the iconic band memorabilia, and then went back to the hotel to get ready for our evening out. We had to prepare for Broadway, yea
h! We had to prepare for...The Little Mermaid! This was my favourite Disney film as a child (I really wanted to be a mermaid, but not ginger) so I had very high expectations, particularly as to whether or not the songs would be carried off or not. I am happy to say that I really enjoyed it - Ursula could have been a bit more scary, but I suppose there were small children in the audience - the original and new songs were all great, costumes were amazing, and the sets all looked great. I won't go into too much detail as it might be brought over to London. And I was SO glad they kept in the song where the French chef sings to the fish as he cuts them up, 'hehehe hohoho'!
To cap our day off
we went to a diner that I had been to on my previous visit called 'Ellen's Stardust Diner'. It was set up like a traditional American diner, but it isn't really the food that people go there for - i
t's the staff. The diner's employees all work there whilst they are waiting for their big break on Broadway - and what better way to practice, and perhaps impress a prospective casting agent who happens to visit - then sing to the customers? This is what they do, all the time you are in there the microphone gets passed to every member of staff who chooses a song from a musical and performs it, often climbing around the restaurant as they do. The great, and sad, thing is that they are all incredibly talented. Great entertainment for us, the humble customer, but sad for them - that they are so close, yet still so far for their dream that you can feel they are so desperate for. And the worst thing is, you can sort of tell who is and isn't going to make it. Sure, any of them could at least make it to some sort of chorus role, but those who aren't the lean, classically good-looking types - there aren't many casting directors who would make them the face of their production. Of course it's the same in so much of the entertainment industry, it's just that it isn't normally singing and staring you in the face while you're drinking your milkshake.

Friday, 21 August 2009

New York Day Four

This was the day that had been planned for some time, the one day that was set in stone. The pinnacle of our New York experience. But, that's not until the afternoon. So, to fill our time in the morning we headed to another tourist honeypot; Grand Central Station - where so many film characters have run around in their time of crisis - did he/she get on the train?? Well, we didn't. We pretty much got in the way of commuters by taking photos and wandering around in awe of the station - the architecture and decoration puts London to shame!

A friend of mine had read about a 'whispering gallery' in the station, which was to be found outside an oyster restaurant. The name 'gallery' is a little misleading when you are looking for this place, as it is more like a whispering walkway, which we only managed to find as we saw mad looking people talking to corners in a wall. It is such a surreal experience as you speak into a corner of marble and hear back voice that sound as if they are coming from just behind you, but in fact are several feet away with a bustling stream of people moving inbetween. Apparently it is a popular place for marriage friends weren't interested in mine!

When we'd had our fill of the station we walked through the humid air down towards Central Park, and waited at the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel as we'd been told that this was the exclusive meeting place for our experience. What was this 'thing' that I've been annoyingly going on about for ages? Well, something that probably only girls are interested in and so can fully comprehend our excitement...the official New York 'Sex and the City Tour'! This was the culmination of our hours of dedication to the show, we'd ploughed on through the entire six series boxset when we were supposed to be writing essays and the like at uni, and then there's the movie too. Now we were there being driven around filming locations that had been made to look so exciting and glamorous on our teeny tiny tv screen months before. And we could even get off the coach. We started with a bang at a hilarious/disgusting/slightly scary sex shop, let's just say there were a lot of batteries in a fairly small room, and we even got a free wooden spank stick, wayhey! We also had a look around a quaint little book shop that I could have looked around for hours, as well as looking around the more exclusive little shopping areas, a playground popular with celebrity mothers, and the very yummy magnolia bakery with its' famous cupcakes. And finally, as it is a must for anything SATC related, we went to a bar that was featured in the programme for the cocktails the women made famous; the cosmopolitan. It was a great way of seeing some lesser known parts of the city, and realising the sheer scale of how much there is to do and see there.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

New York Day Three

So I hope you're not getting bored yet, because there's lots more!! Lots and lots, and it must be read. But first it must be written, so I'll get on with it. On day three and we got our fourth recruit who caught the Greyhound bus up from Virginia to meet us. We ventured into Times Square - which was our local for the week as our hotel was literally around the corner from its' chaos, which I never got used to - to buy some tickets for a Broadway show. I shall divulge our choice later. After our purchase we noticed a large gathering of people, in the middle of which was the legend that is...The Naked Cowboy. This man, in boots, Y-fronts and a hat, brought about the same reaction I get in a theme park. A sense of dread, but the knowledge that you have to do it - go on the ridiculous new ride, have a picture and be embarrassed in front of a large group of people whilst getting groped by a middle-aged cowboy m
an. The man is a total nutjob, and clearly loves the attention and working the crowd. He intermittently bursts into country songs, one of which mentioned his running for mayor - that would be awesome and I really hope he gets it - he of all people knows what it is like to be in the thick of New York rather than hiding coveted in an office somewhere.

Anyway, so the rest of the day was devoted to exploring some more of Downtown, beginning with the elusive Soho. I loved this area - it was everything I'd heard about, fairly small streets scattered with exciting looking shops - most of which I couldn't afford to even look at for too long - but exciting nonetheless! We found what I can only guess was some kind of micro-bakery selling the smallest cupcakes I have ever seen, and I don't understand how so much amazing flavour could have been stuffed into them! We managed to eat these bitesized treats just and find a shop to shelter in just in time, as I then witnessed more rain than I have ever seen in my life - and I've witnessed a hurricane! The rain was merged together to become a continuous sheet of water, that hammered against the window in the shop, even trickling in between the frame. Staff rushed to the leaks, but there was no stopping it. People from the street trickled into the store too, dripping on the floor and displays. For us, luckily it was an Urban Outfitters shop and we happily spent nearly 2 hours looking at the clothes, books and quirky home accessories - so long, in fact, that we all felt the need to buy something - my friend opting for the best book EVER - a flip book of creative swearing. I can't stress enough how funny combinations like 'crap jacket' and 'slut farm' are after a few cocktails!

All the shopping gave us quite an appetite, so we headed to Chinatown for an authentic Chinese meal. When the taxi dropped us off, there was no mistaking where we were - the Chinese immigrants must have made some Manhattan banner maker a fortune! It was decidedly more run down than most other parts of the city, with slightly delapidated looking buildings, rubbish in the street, and faded, ripped signage above most of the shops. Because of this, we headed to the restaurant with the flashing lights - if they can afford that, they can afford not to be serving us dog or cat! There was a wedding reception in a sectioned off part of the restaurant, where I learned my new fact for the day - Chinese weddings also end in drunken renditions of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Who knew?!

Cocktails fueled the end of our day, the first of which we had in a bar that truly followed its name; 'Soul Bar'. We ran inside to escape the rain, and found a dimly lit room with very few people and a small stage at one end. We decided to get a drink, and then found ourselves part of a very small audience to an incredibly talented soul band, with a lead vocalist who had very similar velvety tones to Luther Van Dross and a drummer that looked like the happiest man in the world just to be able to drum! I don't know if the rest of the audience were friends or relatives of the band, but they certainly deserved to have a fuller bar than that!

New York Day Two

Our second day in the Big Apple had us flocking towards the tourist beacon that is the Empire State building - I have a theory that the only reason it
is so tall is to house the rows of meandering people inside that are queuing just to get to the top and come back down again. But, clever things that we are, we got a sneaky queue jump ticket from our friends at the hotel concierge that meant we could smugly walk past all the bored ticketless citizens. Still took bloody ages though! But, after two escalator trips that swelled your ear drums, and a couple of queues that even our nifty tickets couldn't get us out of, we were there, level 86, with a complete 360 view of the city that had been towering over us. You wouldn't have thought it possible about a concentrated pile of concrete, but it's pretty breathtaking. Much to my surprise, we even met a pigeon who felt the same way!

After a spot of shopping (in which I found that the internationally renown Macy's store is, actually, a bit rubbish!) we power-walked a few blocks to catch the final bus before our tickets ran out, and headed - a bit sweaty and out of breath - uptown. This, like Brooklyn, did not feed the New York preconceptions of being filled with famous landmarks, but was no less interesting. I liked seeing where the 'real' people lived. The streets became gradually cleaner as we moved up the streets, with the additions of small preened trees, bushes and balconies - these are the things you can get around to buying when you have enough money to live uptown I suppose! Then, it all morphed again as we reached Harlem. The litter and graffiti returned, but so did the atmosphere, a bustling atmosphere that was different to how it was downtown - it had a togetherness, a sense of community. As the bus drove past residential streets I saw something I thought only happened years ago, or in films - an actual block party. All of the residents were sprawled in the road and on the pavement, one house had its stereo propped up to the window so it could fill the street outside. People stood around chatting and dancing, and all I wanted to do was go and join in! So much now people don't know who lives down their own street, don't speak to their neighbours or make any effort to involve themselves in their community. There would not be half the amount of crime and loneliness if there was more of a connection between people and those that live around them.

When we eventually returned, we decided it was about time to conquer the jet lag and sample a bit of night life in the city. As advised by Carlos - a man who spent his day dressed as a toy soldier, having pictures taken and giving directions outside the FAO Schwarz toyshop - Greenwich Village was the place to go. So there we went! And what interesting places we found! Firstly, a pub endearingly named 'The Slaughtered Lamb', where you could sit accompanied by spider-webbed skeletons - some of which were embroiled in what must have been a very long game of chess. I loved it, but after watching Sex and the City, it wasn't exactly what we were expecting! We were offered some shots, which came not in a shot glass, but a plastic syringe. There's nothing like nearly choking on some strange vodka mixer after nearly spurting it down your wind pipe! And to continue with the macabre theme, not on purpose, we then ended up in the Jekyll and Hyde bar. This was brilliant - there were picture frames and figures that would suddenly erupt and begin talking and mechanically moving around, like a Disney nightmare. However, after being made some more shots and cocktails, this was where our night ended as my fellow explorers were nearly asleep on the bar.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A Bit of Jet Setting...Day One

Well here's something new for my little blog, a travel diary! I haven't got quite enough to do a full on Bill Bryson, but I went to New York for 5 days and crammed in more experiences than I would normally manage in a year! And I don't just mean the touristy sights, one of the things that struck me most was how much more open people were to actually stop and have a conversation with you - maybe the English accent was the way in? So, to record all of these little scraps of memory, I guess it would be best to be chronological.

Day One
Well, technically day two, but no one wants to hear about how uncomfortable plane seats are, so I'll cut straight to the New York stuff! As advised by the hotel concierge (a great woman who couldn't have looked more 'New York' if she tried, with big curly hair, big make-up, and an accent that pronounces it 'cwoffee') we bought a two day ticket for a hop-on hop-off sight seeing bus, and began with the Downtown route that took a loop around the south of the island. Here we encountered the first of our tour guides; a balding man in his sixties with thin wispy hair that floated around the sides of his head, who spontaneously burst into song on his harmonica. His name was Dave. I have to admit, I was hoping for something a little more exotic. Dave asked everyone where they were from as they boarded, adding extra facts that were relevant to each group - he even knew Korean. For our benefit, Dave recounted his last visit to London, which was so recent that he still had an Oyster card in his pocket!

Next for the Brooklyn tour, which we caught down by Dock 17. I was really intrigued to see Brooklyn, it is not as filmed and has none of the landmarks of New York, so I couldn't understand why it is so often talked about. In Sex and the City, for instance, they all voice their disgust when Miranda announces she is moving there - what was the big deal?
Well, to be honest, there is no big deal! Brooklyn was nice - there is only one skyscraper and one massive road, a
s after both were built, 'Brooklyn' decided it didn't like it. What 'Brooklyn' does seem to like is narrow streets with flourishing trees on both sides, and quaint steps leading up to a sturdy wooden front door - lovely, but lacking the buzz that goes on across the bridge.

So, what else would a group of three girls do on their first day in New York? Go on a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride around Central Park of course! The sun shone, the birds sang, and our Turkish carriage driver told us all about New
York. I'm sure they're not usually Turkish in the movies? Like so many people in the city, this young Turkish man had left his family to venture to the promised land and find his fortune, his destiny, and here he was driving a white carriage with red velvet seats around a small circuit of a park, past relentless walkers and joggers, with the aid of a pretty yet rather smelly horse, and all for the twenty minutes' amusements of tourists like us. One of his carriage-driving-friends had given lifts to Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler, but he didn't even have a celebrity sighting to fuel the fact that he hadn't seen his family in years and could not afford to go back and visit them. He was one of thousands, maybe millions, in the same position. The magnetic force of that old American Dream still seems to be alive and well. I hope he finds it.