Monday, 29 November 2010

There's no stopping to the sound of the NYC beat - Day 2

The Yorkshireman and I like our lie-ins and on our first full day in New York even the promise of excitement and adventure out on the streets of Manhattan was insufficient to entice us out of bed before 10am. That doesn't sound so bad but bear in mind that 10am New York time was like 3pm UK time. Oops.

When we did finally drag ourselves out of bed, we headed around the corner to a little place I had found online called Austin's Café for a cheap and cheerful breakfast. I had an egg and turkey roll and a latté while the Yorkshireman had a BLT and an iced tea. For me it was a nice enough breakfast but for the Yorkshireman it was the start of an addiction, as he declared it "the best BLT I’ve ever had!" and proceeded to order it on the four subsequent occasions we frequented that café, without variation. Iced tea also became his drink of choice for the trip. Clearly he's a man of routine, bless him.

Next we headed down into the subway to buy a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard, which was a complete bargain at $27 each – we totally got our money's worth with those during our holiday. There was a bit of confusion when the machine asked us for our zipcode ("feck, we don’t have one, we’re British, what do we do now?") but the lady in the manned booth kindly explained we had to put in “99999” if we were from outside the USA. Eureka, it worked! We were off on our first subway journey. We'd soon be speeding around under the Manhattan streets in big metal boxes, just like on the TV and the movies! How exciting!

Actually it was pretty much like the London Underground or the Metro in Barcelona or Paris, so it was a little underwhelming for we experienced city visitors. However, like the other underground systems we've used before, it was a brilliant way to get around – very quick and (once you learn how to use the subway map) easy. It always reminds me of moles actually; you burrow down under the ground in one place and then pop up somewhere entirely different.

So, mole-like, we took the 1 line downtown and popped up again at South Ferry to do the first thing on our New York "Bucket List". The Staten Island Ferry proved to be the biggest bargain of our trip, at the exorbitant price of $0. It's such a strange experience – there are massive crowds of people all swarming around in the ferry terminal and you think you'll never be able to get a good place to enjoy the view on the ferry itself, but yet when the hundreds of people ahead of you all disappear on to the ferry, they seem to disappear somewhere into the bowels of the ship.

On the way back in particular I was getting all antsy about the fecking huge mob of ferry passengers ahead of us in the terminal because we really wanted to stand on the left-hand-side deck to get photos of the Statue of Liberty, and it wasn't looking likely. And yet, as we pushed our way up the ramps, on to the ferry and out on to the deck, it seemed practically deserted! Where did everybody else go? Not that we cared: there could be a ferry-dwelling monster merrily chewing his way through anyone who ventured on to the lower deck for all we knew, but if meant we could take a few unobstructed snaps of Lady Liberty, I would be wishing him bon appétit!

The Staten Island Ferry really was a good touristy thing to do first – you get brilliant views of downtown Manhattan, a sense of the scale of the island and a better idea of how it connects to its neighbouring boroughs (or in the case of New Jersey, neighbouring state) – and it's all for free! I’m glad we did it first.

Next we headed back uptown on the subway and visited the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park. It was basically like our Continental Market in Belfast but with an ice-skating rink in the middle. It was very festive and pretty and they had some cool things, like personalised Christmas tree decorations, A5 art prints of Broadway show posters and what I can only describe as electric wind chimes, which kept me mesmerised for about five minutes solid.

Next it was on to the Empire State Building to check out the views at sunset. There were no queues to buy the tickets but we waited about 20 minutes in line before we could get up to the observation deck on the 86th floor. We'd actually spent an extra $15 each buying tickets to go to the very top (the 102nd floor), figuring if we were going to do it, we might as well do it right, but I wish we hadn’t wasted our money. I hadn't realised that the 102nd floor observation deck was entirely enclosed and, with the dirty windows and not much space to move around, it really wasn't worth it; the views on the open air 86th deck were much better. I had a little tantrum about that actually, since $30 is a lot of money to us, while the Yorkshireman made vaguely soothing noises whilst managing to simultaneously ignore me and try to take a good photograph through the smudged glass.

Eventually even he gave up and we descended back down to the 86th floor on time for sunset. The views were beautiful, first with the sun glinting off the millions of windows on the Manhattan skyscrapers, then with the sky turning red as the sun disappeared over New Jersey, then with all the lights of the city flickering on slowly but surely at twilight. I think the latter was my favourite, especially looking uptown at the Chrysler building twinkling in the darkness. Breathtaking.

Unfortunately we couldn't hang around as we had a time-bound, only-on-once-a-week opportunity to partake of. We descended the Empire State Building (again queuing for an elevator down) and headed back to the subway to make our way to one of the things I was looking forward to doing the most: Happy Hour at the Brooklyn Brewery!

During the few months I'd been haunting the New York Trip Advisor Forum, several of the locals and regular visitors had mentioned this delightful event, which only takes place once a week on Friday night. The Yorkshireman and I like to do things off the tourist trail and we also like alcohol, so it seemed like an ideal activity for us.

Arriving at Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, we made our way to the Brewery via a kind of deli shop thing called Khim's Millenium Market to line our stomachs with a quick bite to eat. It was kind of expensive (all organic and vegan specialty stuff) but my turkey and cheese sandwich was really good so I can’t complain. Then it was off to join the queue that had already formed outside the Brewery 10 minutes before it even opened. I worried we might not get a seat but it turned out to be plenty big inside. We bought our beer tokens from the little stall by the door, went to the bar to procure our first Brooklyn Brewery beers and then settled ourselves on the malt bags in front of the big brew kettles to enjoy them.

I loved everything about that place. The atmosphere was brilliant since everyone clearly had that Friday feeling and there was good music playing. The beer was awesome too. My favourite was the Detonation Ale (10.2% vol!), which was worth the 2 beer tokens each one cost. A few hours (and a few strong beers) later, having watched a veritable stream of pizza pies come through the doors all night, we were feeling kind of hungry so we figured it was time to make our merry way back to Manhattan and search out some dinner.

Somewhere between the subway station and our hotel we found one of the restaurants I’d found online, a cute little Italian place called Restivo Ristorante, and we had a lovely meal. Crazily we also ordered a 1 litre carafe of red wine, forgetting the old adage about mixing the grape and grain. Sated by our yummy meal, we stumbled, drunk and giggling, back to the hotel and went straight to bed, happily forgetting about the inevitable hangover the next morning. Ouch.

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