The train from Washington DC to New York was actually pretty great. I've heard Americans complain about Amtrak a lot but clearly they haven't had to deal with the conditions on NI Railways or National Rail! The seats were big and comfortable, there was plenty of room for baggage, the toilets were clean and the café car wasn't outrageously expensive. I don't know what else you can expect from a train really! The journey was interesting too, as we passed through places we'd heard of but never visited, like Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Trenton.
Three hours and fifteen minutes after we boarded in DC, the train pulled into New York Penn Station and, as silly as it sounds, it felt like coming home. We'd stayed close to Penn Station on our last trip to New York, so we knew exactly what to expect when we finally found our way out of the maze that is Penn Station. And you know what? It was exactly the same as I remembered, from the Carbon Counter outside Madison Square Garden, to the Sabrett hot dog carts on the street corners, to the intruding glare of the bright lights of Times Square, just a short walk or one subway stop away.
It was actually a relief to be there. In Washington DC, I'd been bobbing along in a sea of unfamiliarity, relying on maps and getting frustrated at every turn, whereas when we stepped off the escalator at Penn Station, I knew exactly where I was and knew how to get around on the subway or on foot from place to place. I felt like I was back in efficient civilisation, no offence to DC.
Happily when we emerged from Penn Station we also knew that our hotel was just across the road. I'd read about the Affinia Manhattan's recent renovation and when I saw the photos of their new one bedroom suites, I quite fancied the idea of staying in one of those little apartment-style rooms.
For a while we were intending to stay more uptown at On The Avenue but recent reviews had reported the furnishings and décor being a bit worn and dated and I'm unashamedly an advocate of Barney Stinson's rule that "new is always better", so when the price for the one bed suite at the Affinia Manhattan dropped to below our On The Avenue booking, we cancelled the latter and snapped up the former.
It turned out to be a great decision - our room was again fabulous! A little smaller than the Helix had been but with a fully functioning kitchenette and an absolutely awesome view of lower Manhattan from the window behind the sofa. The only downsides were that the bathroom was a little small and that it took us a while to figure out how to work the air conditioning (you have to physically plug in the separate wall units apparently). Again pictures speak louder than words, so here are a few photos:
After we settled in and squeaked with joy (ok maybe that was just me) at our amazing room, we decided to venture out in search of supplies to fill our fridge. We knew K-Mart was just across the road and so off we went... except it wasn't quite that straightforward. There was a queue of screaming teeangers right around the block and even though we could get in to the floor at ground level, there was seemingly no way down the escalators because of the hordes of people everywhere. Eventually we gave up and walked back to Penn Station, where we recalled there was another entrance to the lower floor, i.e. where the beer lives.
After getting lost in Penn Station again (to become another common theme of our trip), we eventually found it and procured ourselves some beer and snacks. We remained ignorant of what the big queue upstairs was in aid of until we returned home, at which point Google kindly informed us that some boy band called Mindless Behaviour were apparently there. They look like eight year olds to me but if nothing else it reminded us that there really always is something going on in New York!
Back across the road we stocked our little kitchenette and then changed for dinner. It was Restaurant Week in New York and we'd made reservations for Frankie and Johnny's Steakhouse on West 37th Street.
It wasn't the best meal experience to be honest. Our table was upstairs, which was pretty inconvenient for me on my crutch, although our waiter at least did pull the table out so I could get in to the booth a bit easier.
I quite liked our lobster cake starter but the Yorkshireman wasn't that impressed. The main course (or entrée as our American friends would have it) was a bit silly though - with the Restaurant Week menu, it literally was a case of what you see is what you get, i.e. if you order the salmon, you literally get a small piece of salmon in the middle of the plate. You get no sides unless you order them separately, which to me defeats the purpose of have a prix fixe menu in the first place - I mean, who just eats protein for their main meal without at least a vegetable or potato with it? No-one, that's who.
My steak (what little there was of it) was nicely cooked but the Yorkshireman found his salmon only so-so. Our fries (which cost an extra $8 for the one portion we shared) were ok too but again nothing special. For dessert the Yorkshireman was underwhelmed with his chocolatey dessert (so underwhelmed we forget what it was) and my key lime pie was good but not great.
My tiny steak really was the high point of the meal and we left thinking that, when you took into consideration the extra side dish, the wine, tax and tip, the $130 check was a bit of a rip-off for what started as a $35 prix fixe menu. It was the most expensive meal of our entire trip and probably actually one of the worst. Plus, our waiter kept stalking us. There's a difference between attention to detail and staring at you while you're eating. We won't return and I wouldn't recommend it - if you're willing to pay a fortune for a good meal, there are probably a thousand better places in New York.
Dinner finished, we wearily stumbled back to our hotel and settled in with a beer each and some snacks (since we were still hungry after our modestly portioned dinner) to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which are two of our favourite shows; it was especially a treat to watch them in the same city they're recorded and at the time they're normally broadcast rather than the next day online, as we poor UKers must now do after their deal with More 4 went south.
Suitably amused and caught up with current affairs, we took one last look at the mesmerising views from our windows. The city was now in darkness, but all lit up, including the Empire State Building, which peeked out at us from one of our side windows (dressed all in blue in honour of the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory the night before).
Some of the people in the office building across from us had only just gone home for the night but for us it was definitely time for bed. The next day would be interesting, as we each decided to go our separate ways and explore New York for ourselves...