Saturday, 3 March 2012

Back to Manhattan - Day Seven, Part 1 - Friday 10 February

Friday morning arrived quickly. I wanted to spend the day wrapped up in the green throw on the sofa, looking out the window at a hazy Manhattan and moseying around our lovely suite, drinking coffee and watching cheesy-yet-addictive American TV (have you seen The Doctors yet? It's on CBS Reality over here too - it's like a chat show but with slightly sanctimonious medical experts).

Hazy view of Lower Manhattan from 28th Floor of Affinia Manhattan Hotel New York

However there was work to be done. So I did all those things for a little while and then began the struggle to pack five suitcases' worth of stuff into two cases and two backpacks. Turns out? Shopping means you have more stuff! Who knew?!

The Yorkshireman decided this lack of space was the perfect excuse for a bit of morning drinking - after all, the few remaining bottles of beer we had left in our kitchenette's fridge would clearly take up far too much space. I don't recall the last time I drank alcohol at 10.30am (perhaps a buck's fizz at some point on a holiday?) but we figured it would already be 3.30pm back home, so it was acceptable behaviour. Or not. Either way: beer!

As we'd prepaid for our room because of the good rate, the Affinia Manhattan were kind enough to slip us our final ($0) bill under the door with a note saying we didn't need to see anyone to check out and could just drop our room keys into the key box at reception on our way out any time before noon. No muss, no fuss.

So, a little after 11.30am and a little light-headed from our beer-before-breakfast experience, we did a final check of the room, took one more longing look at our view, and then descended with our over-stuffed luggage down to reception. What awaited us was equally maddening and hilarious.

We were trying to locate one of the bellmen to ask if they would store our luggage for us for a few hours, but they were all busily occupied. What on earth was going on? Within minutes we realised that it was all related to the report we'd seen on NY1 that morning about the upcoming Westminster Kennel Club's 136th Annual Dog Show across the road in Madison Square Garden. It wasn't happening until 13-14 February but clearly the participants were settling in early.

It seems that, for the owners of ridiculously expensive dogs preened to within an inch of their lives, the Affinia Manhattan is the place to stay. Everywhere, steely women were bossing the bellmen around, explaining snappily which dogs and which bags had to be taken to which room. Yikes. And I thought I had it bad at work...

We eventually tracked down a bellman who kindly agreed to store our bags before resuming his bitch-related work (take that how you will). We made a note to tip well upon our return.

De-bagged, we were free to explore. Despite the relatively relaxed activities that morning and the day before, my feet and hip were still sore, so I was really only up for short, easily accessible activities. Luckily, we had a plan!

Our first stop of the day, killing two birds with one stone, was Grand Central Terminal. We'd had a flying visit there on our last trip but had since stumbled upon the free walking tour you can print from their website, which included the whispering gallery we'd heard so much about but missed last time. Plus, since we'd skipped Junior's on Wednesday night, I still needed to check their cheesecake off my New York food bucket list, and there just so happens to be a Junior's in Grand Central.

We arrived at Grand Central and, still quite weary, we followed the walking tour around the terminal.

Interior including chandeliers in Grand Central Terminal New York

Our first attempt at the whispering gallery was unsuccessful but when we swapped to the opposite corners, all was suddenly clear. It was fun and kinda creepy.

Feeling much more informed about the terminal and its subtle oak leaf and acorn themed d├ęcor, we grabbed a table at Junior's in the food court for lunch. I had (my first ever) matzah ball soup and half a corned beef sandwich (American corned beef, which is different than ours), both of which were ok. However the main attraction had been the cheesecake - even many New Yorkers seem to claim it as the best in the city - so I dutifully ordered a slice of the plain stuff.

It was pretty good but nothing particularly special. I'm fairly sure I've had slices just as good from the posher ranges in the UK supermarkets for instance. I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe something more unique, or something different that what I was used to? I was going to order the cherry cheesecake but wanted to try an unadulterated version - perhaps the flavours are the big attraction? I can see why people say to split a slice though - it was very rich. Even my huge appetite and sweet tooth couldn't cope with the whole thing alone.

Stomachs full, we set off back into the terminal to find the "Kissing Room" (Biltmore Room). We had a little trouble finding our way to the right tracks but eventually stumbled upon it. What we also stumbled upon in Grand Central? Some flipping Take 5 bars in Hudson News! Dammit! Saying that, they were $2.29 each (approx £1.45), which I think is a bit steep for a bar of chocolate. Still, I was so amazed to finally see them that I bought two for sister dearest.

Outside the terminal, we had a look at the last stop on the walking tour, the Transportation statue above the entrance of the terminal.

Transportation statue atop entrance of Grand Central Terminal New York

The Yorkshireman took a few photos of the area, including of my favourite ever building, the Chrysler Building (which I always refer to as "my building").

Chrysler Building New York

Then we made our way to our next stop of the day, the New York Public Library's Mid-Manhattan Library, adjacent to Byrant Park.

Mid Manhattan New York Public Library and Lion

Time to confess: my awareness of this stunning facility was only brought about by the Sex and the City movie. I know, sorry. It's where Carrie and Big were going to get married. Before he heartlessly left her at the altar and she hit him with her bridal bouquet. Oh the drama! However I've since learned there's more to it than a movie location and was looking forward to seeing it in person.

I didn't hit the Yorkshireman with any flowers but we did go and have a look inside. I hadn't realised there was a whole mini museum in there but it was so interesting. There was an original score for Star Spangled Banner, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, excerpts from Malcolm X's journals, some photos taken from space exploration missions... even an actual Ku Klux Klan uniform! It was such a strange mix of things in such a small space but it was brilliant and well worth a look. The architecture was pretty impressive too.

Next we headed back to the Affinia Manhattan via Starbucks. We settled ourselves in for a rest on the sofas in the hotel's lobby and enjoyed our drinks whilst marvelling at this previously unknown world of dog competitions: the hotel had even thoughtfully left dog-related magazines on the coffee tables!

On the way in, one woman had decided not to care that she was holding up an entire lane of traffic by parking right outside the hotel doors to unload her precious cargo. She was a typical specimen of those in the lobby that afternoon. Well-behaved dogs sat obediently in their grey plastic carriers while their less-well-behaved owners instructed bellmen how to stack their four hundred cases of doggie accoutrements in the right way on those big trolley/cage things. I would have sworn at them.

We waited for a suitable moment and pounced to request our bags back. We tipped $10 and wished our friendly bellman luck. He gave us a knowing and somewhat jaded look before returning to the fray. We, on the other hand, headed down into the subway and over to a whole new borough: Brooklyn!

EDIT: I totally forgot when I was writing this, but on our way to Grand Central we'd stumbled upon another shop from my cupcake bucket list: Baked by Melissa. Melissa actually bakes mini cupcakes, with only one or two bites per cake. I bought three: Tie-Dye (as close to vanilla as they had), Cinnamon and Blueberry Crumble (which was the mini of the month). I ate them in the lobby of the Affinia with the aforementioned Starbucks. They were all really nice in their own way (the tie-dye was my favourite) but they were just too small! By the time you got a taste of the flavour, it was all gone. It seems that dinky desserts are not for me.

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