"Wow, it's Wednesday already?", was my first thought as I woke up after our second night in our lovely room at the Affinia Manhattan. "Coffee... now!", was the second.
Suitably caffeinated, I once again admired the view from our window and tuned into NY1 to see what was up in New York City that day. The Yorkshireman soon joined me, bleary-eyed but eager to go exploring once again. We knew this day would be a busy one, especially since we once again had time-bound plans, but we knew it would be an interesting one.
We headed over to Penn Station once again and caught the 1 train down to Rector Street. Since the southern tip of Manhattan was the first area of the island to be settled (called New Amsterdam at the time), there is no grid system for the streets there. It's more like the other major cities I've visited. Being honest I prefer the grid system for getting around but there is a certain charm in all the different street names instead.
Stepping out of the subway, we used one of the big tourist information maps posted around the financial district to get our bearings and then set off to see the Charging Bull.
We found him pretty quickly. He was all fenced off and we weren't sure whether this was due to the NY Giants' homecoming parade the day before (there was still confetti everywhere and some city workers were doing their best to clean it all up with leaf blowers) or because too many tourists were wearing down his, erm, "boy parts", by rubbing them too often. We've since learned that apparently he was actually fenced off last year during the Occupy Wall Street protests. The more you know. Regardless, we were content to take a few photos of him instead!
After that we just wandered around the area, taking in the famous sights, including the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, the American International Building (the tallest building in lower Manhattan; we thought it looked like a smaller, stubbier Empire State Building) and Federal Hall. I hadn't known George Washington had actually been sworn in as president on Wall Street back in 1789, so that was interesting.
We did however notice that his statue outside Federal Hall, from certain angles, made him look a bit camp (I hope its not some kind of treason to suggest that). There are actually rumours about his preferences and I think it would be fabulous if he had actually been gay. That'd show the Republicans!
We also stumbled upon a TJ Maxx on Wall Street. I always enjoy bargain-hunting in the UK version, TK Maxx (I wonder why they changed the name..?), and have gotten some amazing stuff there before (my record thus far is a pair of pink boots originally marked as £199, reduced to £2 - I think it might have been an error on their part but I wasn't about to question it; pity they were at least one size too big for me!). So in we went.
Twenty minutes later we emerged with a huge bag of stuff. I'd found a lovely box that looked like an ornate book to house a rather academic friend's birthday gift, a pair of great jeans and a black Tommy Hilfiger sweater for my granddad, a fleece jacket for me since the Sloat (sleeping-bag-coat) was turning out to be quite bulky and a bit too warm to wear all the time, and, the pièce de résistance, a beautiful black leather Fossil bag.
I love Fossil handbags and often stare longingly into the shop in Victoria Square in Belfast as I walk past, but there is no way I could justify the cost of one here. Even the original price of the one in TJ Maxx was lower than any of the ones in the Fossil shop in Belfast, and then it was reduced again by over half! I still couldn't really afford it by myself but the Yorkshireman stepped in and offered to pay for it. My Independent Woman morals ("The shoes on my feet, I've bought it", etc) wouldn't allow me to let him just buy it for me, but we eventually settled on paying half each (he is rather awesome, as husband types go). I transferred all my stuff over to it less than two hours later and haven't been without it since. I luff it.
Frivolous purchases aside, it was then time to make our way to our first, rather more serious appointment of the day, as we had reserved tickets to see the 9/11 Memorial. On our last trip, in November 2010, we had visited St Paul's Chapel and the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, which we found very moving. We had also stepped out into the graveyard at St Paul's and looked across the road at the big gaping space, where it was difficult to imagine the huge towers had once stood, especially since we had never seen them in real life. This time it was a different experience.
Admission to the 9/11 Memorial is free, but generally you have to reserve timed tickets on their website ahead of your visit. There is then an airport-like security process to go through on the way in, but it was very efficient. In no time at all we had entered the site and spent some time looking at the memorial fountains, the famous "Survivor Tree", etc. It was very peaceful and it was also very poignant seeing all those thousands of names along the sides of the fountains, some seemingly family members right beside each other.
Hence I also found the people grinning and taking happy happy holiday snaps of each other in front of the fountains a bit distasteful (all that seemed missing was a big thumbs up), but the less said about that the better. We took some photos, but tasteful ones of the memorial and its environs with no people in them.
I think the plans for this area are really well thought-out though. The victims of the horrible tragedy are remembered in a beautiful, moving and public way, but yet the ever-determined spirit of New Yorkers is also evident in the ever-increasing height of the new One World Trade Center amongst other buildings right next to the memorial. It just seems to me to be the right mix between acknowledging the past and moving towards the future. I'd really recommend a visit there if you have the opportunity.
The only bad thing about the 9/11 Memorial was the lack of public restrooms; I know it's a superficial problem given the gravity of the purpose of your visit, but the fact remains that when you've gotta go, you've gotta go. Given the signs put up by local retailers that "restrooms are not available to the public", it seems to be a common problem for visitors to the site.
In the end we went to McDonalds on Broadway and also used the opportunity to load up on some caffine and free WiFi, whilst listening to a talented gentleman gently manipulating the keys of a grand piano raised on a mezzanine above the doorway. It was the most relaxing visit to McDonalds I've ever had!
Rather than a Big Mac we had decided to go a little more upmarket for our lunch that day, as we'd made another Restaurant Week booking. First though we had to make a quick photo stop.
When we'd been coming up with our "bucket lists" for our trip, one of the few things that the Yorkshireman really really wanted to do was go and see the "Ghostbusters Firehouse". Having only seen the movie once when I was quite young and having been underwhelmed by it, I didn't even know the significance of the place, but the Yorkshireman explained it to me as I took photos of him looking suspicious outside Hook and Ladder 8 on the corner of Varick Street and North Moore Street. Bless.
Then it was off to lunch, this time at Nobu New York on the corner of Hudson Street and Franklin Street. Nobu, for those who don't know, is one of the restaurants owned by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who has even had a few bit part roles in films such as Austin Powers Goldmember and Memoirs of a Geisha. I'd actually heard more about the food than the man and was eager to sample his wares. However, after our first (disappointing) Restaurant Week experience a couple of days before, the Yorkshireman was wary about our lunch plans.
I have to say, Nobu was entirely different and entirely wonderful. We had made the effort to dress up a little that day (Open Table had suggested "smart casual" as the dress code) but given our sightseeing plans for the day we had been unwilling to do without our comfy, casual, now somewhat abused footwear to accompany our business-appropriate attire, so between that and the Sloat I'd been worried we might have been given some condescending looks. However we needn't have worried. They welcomed us without a second glance and led us to our table straight away.
The food was absolutely delicious. I had sashimi to start and the textures and combination of flavours were perfect. For my main I had Teriyaki beef, which was again perfectly cooked. Unlike Frankie and Johnnie's, they also provided a side dish of rice, even with the Yorkshireman's fish and chips "Nobu style", which didn't seem to require it. For the life of me I can't recall specifically what the dessert was, but I remember it was light and delicately flavoured.
The service was also just right, with attention when you wanted it and space to enjoy your meal and have a conversation when you didn't. For three courses it had only been $24.07 each, which is less than the price of one entrée on their regular menu. We left over a 20% tip and deemed it worth every penny and more.
Suitably fed and watered, we made our way to South Street Seaport to visit the TKTS booth there. One our last trip we paid two visits to TKTS at Times Square and waited in line for half an hour one time and an hour the next. This time we'd thought about buying online on a site like Broadway Box, but there always seemed to be a booking fee of about $11 per ticket and when you took that into consideration, TKTS seemed cheaper. Plus we've since learned that the lines at the TKTS booths at South Street Seaport and Brooklyn were shorter, so we figured we'd give those a try instead.
At South Street Seaport we walked in, checked the boards to see that tickets for our chosen show were definitely on sale and then walked straight up to the man behind the window. There were four other people looking at the boards and deliberating but no line at all. It was great! We procured two tickets for Newsical the Musical that evening for $40.25 each within about 3 minutes. Job done!
After that we were kind of tired and decided to go back to our hotel room for a little rest before our evening activities began. We watched a bit of TV and I read my book whilst the Yorkshireman wrote in his journal and then we watched New York once again go from daylight to dusk out our window. However before it got truly dark, it was time to leave again.
Our first stop of the day wasn't very far away - in fact it was across the road. We had intended to visit Macy's again at some point on our trip, but we'd seen their one day sale advertised over the previous day or two and figured it was worth a look.
We started in menswear, which was good because one of the main purposes of our going there was to look for a jumper for the Yorkshireman to replace one that had been covered in someone's spilled Coke at the ice hockey game we'd gone to at Verizon Center in Washington. He found one he liked soon enough, which had been reduced substantially and we moved on. Shortly afterwards I found a couple of gifts for my dad's upcoming birthday and the Yorkshireman found a pair of Calvin Klein socks he liked. I also found a Converse t-shirt that both my brother and sister would have liked and opted for sister dearest, since I'd already bought not-so-baby brother a Hollister hoodie.
Then it all started to go wrong. It turned out that, as well as the one day sale pulling in the crowds, one of the Super Bowl winning NY Giants was in the store to sign merchandise. Of course we happened to be in the sportswear department at the time it all went mad. We escaped as fast as possible and then had a quick look at the other floors, starting at the top via elevator and working our way back down via the famous wooden escalators.
The Yorkshireman hates shopping, particularly in busy department stores, and he was getting tenser by the minute beside me. I decided to have one quick look in the women's accessories department for a birthday gift for our aforementioned academic friend and then head to a cash register to get him out of there as soon as possible. Having decided on a lovely blue, green and gold scarf and a multi-coloured, chunky beaded bracelet for our friend, we attempted to find somewhere to pay.
We eventually found a register and I paid for my bargains, reducing the prices even further with another 10% discount by showing the cashier our hotel room key (some deal the Affinia Manhattan has with Macy's I guess!). The total would originally have been $165.06 and I got it all for $66.66, which is a saving of $98.40! I saved more than I spent! That's my kind of shopping!
Unfortunately the Yorkshireman's purchasing did not go quite so smoothly: a tag was missing from his jumper and the cashier said she couldn't sell it without a tag since it wasn't from her department. So off we went back to menswear... except, where was it? For the life of us we could. not. find our way back to where we had come in. Eventually, after wearily wandering up and down between floors 1 and 2, we came across a kind of tunnel and went through it. Finally: success! In our defence it is supposed to be the world's largest store!
We located another jumper that actually had a tag and went to wait on line to pay. We had to wait for about 15 more minutes and the Yorkshireman was getting grumpier by the second, but eventually he got to pay, he got his discounts (which cheered him up a little) and we exited the shop, hot and bothered, into the cold, crisp air. Ah, that was better! There was even some drifting snow around, which was soothing to our overheated and overtired bodies.
Newsical was due to start at 8pm but we had plenty of time to go for dinner yet. Time for another supposed "best in New York", this time burgers. Every time I read about burgers in New York, someone, without fail, mentions Shake Shack. They also have custard-based desserts, which appealed to our sweet teeth and so we put it on the list.
Man that was one busy fast food joint! We ordered our food, got one of those pager things that lets you know when it's ready, and tried to look for a table. My order was ready before a table became available but eventually, through luck and persistence, I spotted a group leaving over by the window and swooped in (as much as one can "swoop" with a crutch and sore feet).
The Yorkshireman joined me soon afterwards, as did a guy and a young boy who shared our table. We determined that it was a big brother (probably twenty-something) taking his eager and inquisitive little brother out for a burger and shake. I had to conceal my smile as big brother explained to little brother how much money it costs to take a lady out on a date in the city. "Lots" was the general consensus.
I must say I did enjoy my burger at Shake Shack. It was juicy and still pink in the middle, which suited me. However I later had a better burger elsewhere so I don't think I could agree it was the "best" in the city. The fries and shake were good too, but it was very much fast food, not fine dining. You get what you pay for.
Not wanting to take up a table unnecessarily when it had been so hard to find one ourselves, we left and made our way to the Kirk Theatre, which is actually part of a group of theatres under the one roof called Theatre Row. It reminded us of New World Stages, where we had seen Avenue Q on our last trip. We grabbed a beer in their bar (happy that they had Brooklyn Brown Ale), used the restrooms and then made our way into the theatre.
It was a small theatre but the intimate surroundings suited the show well. I'd read that Newsical was like the Daily Show set to music, which appealed to us greatly, being that we love both the Daily Show and musicals. And it didn't disappoint.
Obviously some of the numbers were better than others but the show was up-to-date and entertaining, whilst the cast were talented and able impersonators, which really added to the show. Since we've been following the Republican G.O.P. race (mainly in disbelief that anyone would legitimately want to vote for any of the candidates on offer), my favourite song was one about the Republican Carousel. I went around saying, "I'm Mitt Romney and I'm still here!" every so often for the next couple of days.
The show was relatively short (although enjoyable throughout) and soon we were back on the street. We had intended to go to Junior's for cheesecake after the show but we were still full from dinner (the Yorkshireman in particular, as he had eaten about three quarters of a pint of frozen chocolate custard) so we decided to postpone those plans.
However while we were in the area, we decided to head over to the Hershey's store. Normally we would avoid the shops in Times Square like the plague, but sister dearest had requested that we bring her back some confectionery called a Take 5 bar, which was apparently made by Hersey's and which we had been entirely unsuccessful in tracking down thus far, no matter which department store, pharmacy or bodega we'd looked in (or even which city!).
On the way we passed the EarthCam at Times Square and gave anyone who was watching a little wave. I love it when I'm watching it and passersby know it's there and acknowledge the camera, but it rarely happens (it's usually just busy New Yorkers with takeout cups of coffee striding past and lost-looking tourists looking at maps).
When we arrived at the Hershey's store it was already closed. Doh! We peered into the windows to see if we could spot Take 5 bars from there, but alas we could not. We gave it up as a bad job and headed back to the hotel, where we watched the Daily Show and Colbert Report in our big comfy bed and fell fast asleep. The next day promised to be a little more relaxed (just as well since my feet were about to fall off) but just as interesting.