Our first stop of the day was Port Authority Bus Terminal. Wow that place is big! I managed to buy return tickets from the machine but the question of where our bus was departing from stumped me. I looked at the bus timetable for our route, the departure signs and everything, but still I was confused. I ended up joining the queue in the NJ Transit enquiry office behind people who had lost stuff on buses and an irritating Englishwoman who just did not seem to understand (or care) that the NJ Transit office was not the right place to enquire about the MTA buses. Eventually, when the Englishwoman had pottered off muttering about things being “too confusing”, the nice lady told us where to go and so we made our way to Gate 204 to board the 126 bus to Hoboken, New Jersey.
What’s so special about Hoboken in New Jersey, you ask? Or perhaps you didn’t ask if, like me, you’re a fan of the show Cake Boss. Yes indeedio, we were off to Carlo’s Bake Shop! We got off the bus at 2nd Street on Washington Street in Hoboken and there, across the road, looking exactly like it does on TV, was the bakery itself. When we were planning our trip, I’d figured, hey, we like Cake Boss and we like sweet things, so why not visit?
We went inside and got in line. The queue was pretty short, which apparently is not always the case – there were reports in the summer of queues right around the block! We stood in line at the counter, mesmerised by the ornately decorated cakes and delicious looking baked goods, trying to simultaneously spot people we recognised from the show and decide what we wanted to buy. When we got there, Frankie was having his photo taken with a birthday girl visiting the bakery and I think it was Madeline we saw serving behind the counter.
Everything looked really delicious. We knew from watching Cake Boss that Carlo’s specialises in traditional Italian desserts and so we bought lobster tails.
I also bought a cupcake (to continue my quest) and a Carlo’s Bake Shop mug, whilst the Yorkshireman bought a Napoleon. After a few posed photos outside the bakery, I insisted on walking around and checking out the alleyway behind the shop, which features a lot on the show too. Yes, I was being a total fangirl.
I finally dragged myself away and went in search of somewhere to buy a takeout coffee. Oh look – Starbucks, yay! I’m evidently a fangirl of the ‘Bucks as well! It was another iced tea for the Yorkshireman and I ordered my new (new) favourite New York drink: a caramel apple spice. Basically it was warm apple juice, cinnamon dolce syrup and then cream with caramel drizzle on top. Healthy? No. Festive and yummy? Yes!
Next we walked down towards to Hudson River and decided to enjoy our goodies in Pier A Park in the beautiful sunshine. We really liked the lobster tails (especially the filling, which was a sort of cross between frosting and ice-cream, if you can imagine that) but the cupcake and Napoleon were just ok. The views of Manhattan however were spectacular and you could see the whole length of the island and how the skyline changes from area to area, for instance the Empire State Building towering over midtown and the tall, modern buildings crowding into the Financial District downtown.
After the Yorkshireman took about a million photos and we dusted the remnants of our flaky breakfast off our clothing, we headed back to Hoboken Terminal to get our bus back to Port Authority Terminal. A quick bus journey later and, before we knew it, we were on the subway heading for 59th Street / Lexington Avenue to check a few more “must see” and “must buy” items off our lists.
The first thing we stumbled upon when we emerged from the subway was Dylan’s Candy Bar. We hadn’t planned to visit, since you can get candy pretty much anywhere and I figured it would be overpriced, but we thought we would have a look since we were there anyway. It was like a sugary wonderland – kids probably love it - but after our sweet-filled morning we didn’t buy anything.
Next, finding our bearings, we headed across the street to Bloomingdales. I wanted to buy my fellow shopaholic mother a Little Brown Bag and also wanted to check out their clothes and Christmas stuff. They had some very nice clothes actually but they were a little out of my price range. I was quite disappointed with their Christmas selection though – Macy’s was much more impressive. In the end I left with only the Little Brown Bag and a grumpy-looking Yorkshireman: department stores are not his natural habitat, bless him.
He soon cheered up though because we were both really looking forward to our next shopping spot. A short walk later and we arrived at FAO Schwarz. We had great fun petting the stuffed animals, pressing buttons to make the toy NYPD and FDNY vehicles’ sirens wail and flash and posing for photos with a Santa made entirely of Lego. Awesome. And, of course, there was the ‘Big Piano’, as made famous by the movie Big.
At first there were only small kids running up and down the giant keys but, undeterred, I was soon whipping off my shoes and joining them. The Yorkshireman, like all the other adults standing around, was unwilling to join in at first, but when they all saw that there was already one adult nutter eagerly stomping up and down the keys, they all figured it was ok. I clearly started a revolution, or else they were all just sheep! Then of course two nerdy teenage boys took over the whole piano and started re-enacting the “heart and soul” scene from Big:
When they finished, clearly very proud of themselves, a rather droll employee said, in the flattest, driest tone imaginable, that it was the best version he’d heard all day. The boys looked crestfallen. I laughed. Serves them right for trying to show off.
Unfortunately after FAO Schwarz, we knew the time had come to once again brave Times Square and the queue for the TKTS booth. This time the line was horrendous. We queued for an hour, watching and hearing the same leaflet-pushers advertise to us over and over again. No. We do not want to go see Mary Poppins. We didn’t want to see it when you offered us a leaflet ten minutes ago and we still don’t want to see it now. Go away. Eventually though, we had obtained our objets du désir: two tickets for Avenue Q that evening. Yay!
Our feet were pulsating with pain and fatigue at this point, so we figured we would give the McDonalds across the street from the TKTS booth a try. We ordered the same thing as last time but these meals were pretty yucky. The burgers were greasy and salty and the fries just tasted like fried cardboard dipped in salt. At least the vanilla shake was the same. The New York themed art on the walls upstairs was pretty cool though.
It was probably around 4.30pm by that point and, since we had a bit of time to spare before Avenue Q started at 8pm, we started thinking about what other places or activities off our NY “bucket lists” we could fit in beforehand. It was time to make a plan… a cunning plan!
Our first stop was the Nintendo World Store so that the Yorkshireman could geek out again and buy some merchandise this time. I sat on some kind of silicone seat on the first floor to rest my feet, attempting to play something called Starfy on the DS, and left him to it. One huge bag and one huge grin later, he was ready to go.
Next we jumped on the subway and across town to the Chrysler Building. I absolutely love its art deco architecture and wanted to see it up close and personal before we left the city. We emerged from the subway and made our way up through black and white art deco corridors until we eventually found our way out on to the street to take a few photos, looking up at the lights.
It was only a short walk from the Chrysler Building to Grand Central Terminal. The Yorkshireman had wanted to see the building itself and I had wanted to take a look at the Holiday Fair in Vanderbilt Hall ever since I’d seen it advertised on a subway ad on our first full day in the city. We entered close to Vanderbilt Hall so we checked that out first. Unfortunately by this point our feet were really sore and we were tired and getting a little fed up, so we didn’t really pay much attention to what was on sale in the Holiday Fair, with me muttering things like, “doesn’t matter, couldn’t afford it anyway, harrumph…” under my breath.
We spent a little time in the main concourse so the Yorkshireman could take a few photos and then we headed into the food court. There was a lot of variety of food and drink but inevitably we ended up just buying an iced tea and a cup of milk from Juniors. It was sort of a pity we weren’t that hungry after our yucky McDonalds earlier because another thing on my “bucket list” was to try some proper New York cheesecake, and where better than Juniors? Alas, it wasn’t to be. Perhaps next time!
While we sipped our drinks we did some more planning. There was still about an hour left until Avenue Q started and we weren’t sure what else we should do on our last night in the city. However it became clear that the Yorkshireman was regretting not getting a photo of the frontage of the American Museum of Natural History while we were there the day before and so we decided to head back there under cover of darkness and take a few snaps.
We emerged from the subway, walked across the street and looked up at the Museum... to see that the entire frontage had been covered by some kind of massive sheet (presumably due to some renovation work or something). Crap! Ah well, sod’s law strikes again. The Yorkshireman took a few photos of the Museum anyway (well the sheet was designed to look like the Museum’s frontage I suppose) and of the Theodore Roosevelt statue outside and then it was back on to the subway. We were off to see Avenue Q at last!
Or at least we would be after a quick coffee stop. We’d arrived outside the New World Stages with still about half an hour until curtain-up and I didn’t want to sit in a theatre for half an hour when I could be out enjoying the city on our final night. That said, I was so totally not in the mood for walking any more and so declared to the Yorkshireman that if we couldn’t find a suitable alternative within the next block, we would be visiting the Irish bar straight ahead of us. Luckily for us both there was a little café called The Coffee Pot just around the corner and I had a lovely white chocolate mocha and, suddenly peckish, a bagel with cream cheese. The Yorkshireman had nothing to eat or drink but I think he quite enjoyed sitting down for fifteen minutes or so.
Then it was finally time for the show! We found our way to the Avenue Q stage within the building (as the name ‘New World Stages’ suggests, there are quite a few stages in there!) and were promptly informed about the waiter service that will bring you cocktails to enjoy at your seat during the show. We had a couple of cocktails called ‘Hairy Monsters’ and ‘Fuzzy Monsters’ during the show – not much to them but a bit of fruity alcohol never goes amiss.
The show itself was absolutely fantastic. It’s basically a play on the whole Sesame Street thing, with the moral of this story being that, despite what you’re told as a child, not everybody is special and not everyone does have a special talent to contribute to the world: most people are just getting on with their mundane, sucky lives as best they can and holding out for the good times in amongst the bad. The songs were so funny that we bought the soundtrack when we got home and have found ourselves singing ‘It Sucks to be Me’ and ‘Schadenfreude’ on a regular basis ever since. The UK cast are apparently doing a tour in 2011. There are no Belfast dates on their schedule yet but I hope they do make it across here – I’d love to see it again.
The cast of the show were fundraising for charity the night we were there and were selling signed playbills and posters after the show. The Yorkshireman, on a whim, decided to buy one of the posters but, oh no, he didn’t have any cash and they couldn’t take a card. Doh! By the time we got to an ATM and back they’d all disappeared. Double doh! Luckily the guy closing up the merchandise stall told us to go through some double doors and ask inside about buying the poster. So, a little concerned we might be escorted away by some burly security guards at any point, we did indeed go in through the double doors…
The first thing we saw was a little door ahead of us, just behind the backstage area, where all the puppets were hanging up and where all the cast had congregated and were merrily chatting away to one another. Feeling like we really shouldn’t be there, we finally found a very nice man who was more than happy to sell us a signed poster and even threw in a couple of badges, one saying “It sucks to be me” (which the Yorkshireman wore for the rest of the evening) and one saying “Everything in life is only for now” (which I wore). It was so weird, just hanging around backstage, watching all the cast (and puppets!) we had just seen perform on stage standing about six feet away. It was a brilliant, unexpected ending to the experience.
It was approaching 11pm by this point, so we raced back to the hotel and dropped off the poster and our shopping bags from earlier and then hit the streets again. I wanted to stay up a little later and have some fun on our last night, but I had evidently underestimated just how tired we would be. Nonetheless we bought a bottle of wine from our friendly neighbourhood liquor store for later on and set off to find a Thai restaurant close by that I’d read good things about. Unfortunately when we got there we realised it was due to close at 11.30pm, which would have only given us about 20 minutes to eat. Hmmm.
We hit the streets in search of a nice place to have dinner that was going to be open until at least midnight, but apart from markets, pizzerias and rather dodgy-looking places, we were finding nada. We did however witness a drunken cyclist careen off his path on the pavement into a guy who was trying to manoeuvre some very heavy-looking crates. Both ended up falling over but everyone was ok. New York is crazy!
Eventually, tired by all the walking and a pretty long day, I gave the Yorkshireman a choice: it was Rosa’s Pizzeria again or the Malibu Diner again. He selected the Malibu Diner and so off we went. We sat at the counter this time, for a more authentic diner experience, and looked at the massive menu. Knowing that Thanksgiving was coming I ordered the turkey and stuffing (with split pea soup thrown in to start) and the Yorkshireman had a pastrami sandwich with fries (and chicken noodle soup to start). There was no way we could have finished those massive portions, although the Yorkshireman gave his a good go! All I can say is God bless the 24/7 diner – it was just what we needed and also they serve as much free tea and coffee as you can drink.
I was absolutely shattered by the time we got back to our hotel room, in spite of the three refills of coffee I’d had at the diner. I was so tired, in fact, that I couldn’t even muster up the enthusiasm to open our bottle of wine. The Yorkshireman eagerly set to his packing but I selected the procrastination route and went to sleep instead, thinking sorrowfully that our last real day in New York was now over and that tomorrow it would be time to go home. Woe.