Our big adventure for a month in the USA started with 2 nights in New York City.
We flew from London Gatwick with Norwegian, it didn’t start so well as we’d booked premium cabin seats and were really looking forward to experiencing their 787 Dreamliner, but was informed that the flight would be serviced by Hifly on an Airbus 330 instead. We still had the 2-3-2 configuration and the flight was extremely comfortable with loads of legroom, adjustable seat and a handy foot step so changing position was easy. The disappointment was with the inflight entertainment, there was a choice of 7 films, or 7 tv programmes which was very limited for a 7 hour flight. The hot meals were good, we were given breakfast and lunch, however there wasn’t any drinks service offered in between, which meant we had to call for service to get a cup of water.
Immigration was a breeze as we were on returning ESTAS, having stayed in Las Vegas in November 2016, there was no queueing for us. We took a yellow taxi cab from the airport which has a fixed transfer fee from JFK to NYC, it was 60$ plus any tolls. Our driver was keen to force his way through the rush hour traffic, weaving from lane to lane, we had a laugh and some banter with him along the way.
We arrived at our hotel at midday, our rooms were going to be ready from 3:30 pm so we dropped our cases and headed out into NYC. It was my first visit to New York, Mike had been as a child with his parents. We walked through the bright lights of Times Square, we decided to walk down to Battery Park and take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I loved this free boat trip, it’s part of the daily commute for many residents, but also very popular with tourists. Our ferry on the way from Whitehall Terminal to St. George Ferry Terminal was enclosed on the way over and although plenty of windows, it was difficult to get a clear shot. However, we were advised to get straight on the next ferry heading back, which had open balconies and this was fantastic for photos. We were escorted by the U.S. Coastguard on both journeys, the gunner lashed on to the front of their launch was relaxed enough to give the occasional wave to the tourists snapping away.
We were exiting the ferry terminal when I spotted the Brass Tap Craft Beer Bar, we took the opportunity to warm up and sample a beer each. I ordered a Founders Porter and tried the peanut butter version, Mike ordered a Left Hand Milk Stout. It was time to head back to the hotel, collect our luggage and find our room. This hotel has a fabulous location, it’s on 7th street at Times Square and has everything right on your doorstep. The rooms however are dated and a little tired, we were in 1241 which overlooked the side street. The bathroom was a shower over bath and included toiletries, the bed was very comfortable, we couldn’t get the air conditioning to cool, we guessed they are on heating mode in the winter months, so the room was a little stuffy for us. Their wifi was fast and easy to log onto.
We became aware of some adverse weather due to hit NYC the next day as all three of our tours / events we had planned were cancelled. The nor’easter storm called Toby, would be bringing 6-14 inches of snow from 5am onwards.
As we’d been up for almost 24 hours, we headed out early to eat at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, there was a small queue, but it moved fairly quickly and we were soon shown to our table, right in the centre of the restaurant. The menu is American diner, we ordered milkshakes and root beer whilst deciding what to eat. I ordered chicken and waffles, this combination worked! The chicken breast was coated and fried, served between two waffles (like a burger bun) and served with maple syrup. Personally, I wasn’t that keen on the potato croquettes, although the spicy dipping sauce was good. The waiting staff here are hired for their singing voices, they take time out from serving to perform some really great Broadway show songs. There are some really talented staff, we enjoyed a range of solo, duet and group performances during our meal. Our hotel was only a short walk around the corner, so we hit the sack, ready for a full day tomorrow.
We walked through the snow to the Westway Diner for breakfast, this is where the NYPD frequent, so we thought it would be good. It was, in fact we ate there both mornings during our stay. My favourite was the special french toast red, white and blue which was the colours of the fresh fruit served on top. The American’s sure know how to do breakfast.
We decided to escape the weather and take the audio tour of the Grand Central Terminal, this is one fascinating building. I enjoyed learning about the history behind the terminal, facts like the information centre has a secret staircase in the middle which connects with the floor below, and their own staff canteen. The Central Market is a foodie heaven with some really interesting stalls, plus the dining concourse which has an excellent range of restaurants, and the famous Oyster Bar. The whispering gallery was fun, at first it looks like people are standing in the naughty corner! Facing the wall you can pass a message to the opposite corner, that can’t be heard in general. I’m so pleased that this historic building was saved and is in fantastic condition today.
We had booked a walking tour to take us from Wall Street to the 9/11 Memorial, as it was cancelled we decided to do that route on our own. We were stood by the New York Stock Exchange building, when we met Tony an ambassador for Tiffany’s, he just stopped to see if we needed help with anything as we were wondering which route to take. He told us how to find the bull, and compared Broadway to the yellow brick road, so we decided to follow it back to our hotel when we were ready.
We found the 9/11 site, it’s unimaginable of the horrors that unfolded in this spot on that fateful day. I recall the shock of seeing those planes and burning tower blocks on TV, it’s one of those dates that will be remembered for our lifetime. Unfortunately the 9/11 Memorial Museum was closed, so we visited the North and South pools, taking time to read the names of those lives lost. The snow was coming down thick and the wind was bitingly cold, so we called into O´Hara’s an Irish bar in the area to warm up. The bar was full of service badges, and a role call of the New York firemen who died doing their duty on 9/11. Our next plan was to walk to Katz for a pastrami sandwich, we were trying to walk where possible so that we saw some of the city, rather than diving underground to use the metro. We set off in the snow, passing through the various districts, when we spotted a deli. Heading inside they had pastrami on rye, so we lunched here instead of the famous attraction of Katz. We made it back to the hotel through the snow, we’d walked 12km and had enjoyed seeing the city in a different light.
After a chill out we had to make a decision about that evening’s meal, one of the last things on our list was an authentic New York pizza, we wanted the real deal and were pleased to discover Angelo’s was just a block away from our hotel. Angelo’s Pizza NYC on Broadway is a 4th generation pizza making family, who arrived in New York during the 1930’s. We found the restaurant which is split over two floors, we were seated upstairs which as some fabulous old black and white photos along the wall. Their coal fired pizzas come in two sizes 13″ or 17″, we ordered a large pepperoni to share. This hit the spot, it was just what we’d wanted, a thin crispy blackened base, with rich tomato sauce and plenty of spicy pepperoni scattered on top. There were chilli flakes on the table, if more heat was required. It was plenty of pizza for us, we still couldn’t quite manage the last slice. We weren’t the only ones though, as other diners were taking their left overs home in a box.
That was it, our time in New York City was up, in the morning we would be collecting our hire car and making the drive along the New Jersey Turnpike towards Washington D.C. If we were just doing a city break, we would have crammed more in, but this was only the start of our holiday, we had to pace ourselves!
One thing to mention we found in New York City was that more often than not, our bank cards weren’t authorising on the magnetic strip, which was a bit strange. They don’t use the chip system here, so the details had to be entered in manually when this happened.
Our photo album: New York City Photos
Mike’s Thoughts On New York
New York is everything I expected it to be – fast paced, full of energy and people hustling. But it also has a fascinating history. I was constantly having to remind myself that NYC is the youngest great metropolis in the world, and that only a few generations ago, there was nothing here!
I loved the architecture – the great buildings were essentially built by a small group of millionaires who seemed to be trying to out do each other in terms of the grandeur or height of their properties. Best of all was Grand Central Terminal, which has been superbly restored to it’s original and spectacular beauty.
New York City is quite pricey and it’s always crowded. It’s almost impossible to get away from the noise and the bustle. But you don’t feel hassled to buy stuff. In fact we met a lovely guy called Tony when we were walking past the stock exchange. He overheard us talking to each other about which way we should be walking, and engaged us in conversation, sharing ideas and tips. I was waiting for the “Big sell” of some tour or excursion, but I was wrong. He simply wanted to help!
I find it incredible that the Staten Island ferry remains a completely free service, and it’s well worth doing the trip to get close to the Statue of Liberty.
I was deeply moved by the 9/11 memorial. That day will always remain in the memories of those of us who were alive at the time. To stand on the spot where we watched it all unfold was very emotional. Where the towers once stood, there are two simple pools of water, flowing endlessly. I have huge respect for whoever designed the memorial. It could have been so tacky, but in reality it’s so simple, and because of that, so very powerful.
New York City is somewhere everyone should go at one time in their lives. For me, it was fascinating, but I don’t feel drawn to go back again. It’s interesting, but it didn’t get under my skin.