Thursday, 1 March 2012

Back to Manhattan - Day Six - Thursday 9 February

It was the same morning routine on the Thursday morning: woke up, still tired but excited about the day ahead, made some coffee, admired the view with NY1 on TV in the background and then eventually got ready to go. We made our way up to the Starbucks opposite Macy's so I could grab a bagel and yet more coffee and take advantage of their free WiFi, then it was onward to 49th Street for our first New York bus experience!

On our last trip we had gotten to know the subway pretty well, so we were confident about getting around. However our plans for the day were mostly over by the Hudson River on the far west of Manhattan and the subway only goes as far west as 8th Avenue, which would have meant more of a walk than my poor hip and feet felt up to. Enter the cross-town bus! We'd looked at the MTA Manhattan bus map and figured we should be able to take the subway up to 50th Street and then the M50 bus from 49th Street straight to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which was our first port of call (pun intended) of the day.

But first! Those flipping Take 5 bars. Since the Hershey's store was close enough to our bus stop, we figured we might as well call in - hopefully at 9.30am it would actually be open this time. It was, of course, but we still couldn't see Take 5 bars anywhere. Eventually I found a Hershey's gift pack, which contained one solitary Take 5 bar. So at least they existed. I had started to wonder if they were a figment of sister dearest's imagination, which, if you know her, you'll recognise is not outside the realms of possibility. I asked a store assistant if they had Take 5s by themselves, but apparently, no, just that one in the gift box.

Having been in the USA for almost a week now and still having not seen them elsewhere, I sighed the deep sigh of someone who knows they're paying an inflated price for something they don't really want but feel they have to buy, and coughed up the $14. Oh well, it was another tick off the to-buy list. Onward to the bus!

The bus was actually really straight forward. We found the stop easily enough and it didn't take long before a bus pulled up. You can use your unlimited Metrocard on the MTA buses, so it didn't cost us anything extra. Plus, unlike the subway, there are no steps involved and you actually get to see your surroundings as you travel. The M50's last stop was right outside the Circle Line terminal, which was actually really handy since we had to make a quick stop there first anyway, and then it was just a quick walk over to the Intrepid. Yes, we liked the bus.

We also liked the Intrepid. We've learned the hard way over the years that with museums it's best to start at the top and work your way down, so we got the lift up to the Flight Deck and had a look at all the planes and helicopters, which was good fun.

USS Intrepid Air Sea and Space Museum New York

Aircraft on Intrepid Air Sea and Space Museum New York

Sadly the only way to get to the navigation bridge was to climb up some steep steps. With my sore hip and crutch there was no way I was getting up there. I found a bench to sit on instead and sent the Yorkshireman up alone. He waved at me from above (from the "vulture's nest", I believe) and took some photos to show me what was up there. It turned out you weren't really allowed to play the exhibits up there anyway, so I didn't miss much that would have interested me.

Instead I watched a group of small school kids emerge on to the flight deck and be very sweetly amazed by the view. One wide-eyed boy said he was "on top of the world!", which was very cute.

When the Yorkshireman returned from his expedition we went down to the Hangar Deck. That was where all the fun was at. It turns out, they have a whole load of interactive exhibits there! I was thrilled since those are the only things that make museums interesting to me. What can I say, I'm a kinesthetic learner. Also mentally five years old. I got to pretend to fly a helicopter, play with switches and buttons inside a space capsule, complete tasks with space gloves on, sit in the captain's chair in a pretend navigation deck, sit in a rowing boat that moved as though it were at sea, play with air flows… it was brilliant! Anything I can climb on or where I can press buttons is an instant winner with me, so I had a fab time, crutch and all!

We debated going on one of the simulators but they were kinda expensive and we also feared my leg might fall off, so we gave them a miss. We were having a look at another interactive exhibit where you had to step from side to side and try to line up your line of sight with a ball of light (called the "meatball" apparently) and a cross-mark, i.e. like a plane would have to do to land on an aircraft carrier at sea, when a gentleman who had formerly been in the military came over to tell us more. I'm painfully anti-social and hate talking to strangers but it was actually very interesting and I discovered that he and his fellow yellow t-shirted workers at the museums are actually volunteers, which is nice of them. He suggested we watch the short movie that shows every 15 minutes about the Intrepid's time in action and then left us to look at the impressive Lego model of the Intrepid.

We'd just missed the start of the film so we decided to come back later if we had time and made our way down to the Gallery and Third Deck. Here they had examples of mess halls, sculleries, etc, and it was interesting to see where and how the actual crew would have slept, prepared food, ate and hung out in their downtime. I wouldn't fancy it myself for extended periods but more power to them! That said, we did call into the Au Bon Pain they hide down there for lunch and ate in the actual mess deck, surrounded by bleak tables, chairs and pipes everywhere, which was kinda cool.

After lunch we took a walk along the pier to check out Concorde. Sadly you're no longer able to see the interior unless you're part of a guided tour, which was disappointing, but even the outside was pretty impressive. I would have loved to have flown in one of those bad boys!

Concorde on Intrepid Air Sea and Space Museum New York

Next we took a look at some steel beams which had been recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Centers after 9/11 and learned that, apparently, the New York arm of the FBI had actually moved its operations and investigation into 9/11 on-board the Intrepid after their offices at the World Trade Center were put out of action. I'd never known that, but what a weird and wonderful solution to a strange and terrible event.

Next on our to-do list was to explore the Growler submarine, but a sign outside said that anyone who needed assistance walking was not allowed onboard. Doh! It turns out that it was for good cause: we had thought there was some kind of security line you had to go through before you were admitted entrance, but it turned out to be a replica of the cramped little doorways between the different sections of the submarine, which you had to prove you could get through on the relative safety of dry land before you were allowed to try it out in the submarine itself. There was no way I was getting through more than one of those without a struggle, so I again took to a bench (luckily it was a lovely day) and waited for the Yorkshireman to explore on his own. He apparently found it interesting, which was good.

We still had a little time to kill so we decided to go and watch the short film. It was very, well, patriotic, shall we say. Also a bit fighty for my liking (sorry, I'm a self-confessed, unrealistic pacifist - the unnecessary violence mankind inflicts on each other during times of war horrifies me). But it was interesting nonetheless and worth watching to round out your knowledge and experience of the Intrepid. It might actually be the best place to start if you're there, so you understand the significance of the exhibits as you go round.

When the film finished we made our way down to the gift shop and had a look at the cool stuff for sale. We bought our traditional souvenir fridge magnet (I fear our magnet collection will soon weigh more than our fridge) and then abandoned ship, strangely enough to go and board another, somewhat smaller ship.

We walked back to the Circle Line terminal and showed the tickets we had bought earlier for our three hour Full Island Tour around the whole of Manhattan, then joined the line. Our feet were still sore from our previous days' adventures so we were looking forward to the long opportunity to sit down, but we had to suffer for it first, namely by queueing for half an hour while the boat's previous sightseers disembarked and our own group had to pose for official photos in front of the boat. The Yorkshireman and I, never ones to pay good money for something we can do ourselves, declined the invitation.

Eventually we got on to the boat and claimed two seats in the open air portion of the top deck on the left-hand side of the boat (or the port side, as I think the nautical terminology has it). It was a mild day, with the sunshine in the clear skies warming the otherwise crisp winter air, but we had wrapped up warmly and were willing to brave the cold for the uninhibited views. Our tour guide introduced himself and gave us all the information about life jackets, refreshment facilities, etc, and then we were off!

Circle Line terminal and Empire State Building from Hudson River

I won't go into detail of every little thing we saw, but there were some memorable parts worth specific mention. We got a lot closer to the Statue of Liberty than we had on the Staten Island Ferry on our last trip, which was cool.

Statue of Liberty New York

View of Lower Manhattan from New York Harbour

We got a closer look at Ellis Island and Governors Island too. I also really enjoyed sailing under all the bridges, especially the Brooklyn Bridge, since we'd walked over it last time, and the Queensboro Bridge, since I just think it's a pretty quirky as bridges go.

View of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge from the East River

View of Manhattan from the East River

Ed Koch Queensboro / 59th Street Bridge from the East River

I thought the north tip of Manhattan was really cool too because it looked nothing like you would ever imagine Manhattan would do, with still waters and trees and no skyscrapers in view at all.

Northern shores of Manhattan

Northern tip of Manhattan from the Hudson River

I also really only took in how much of Manhattan there is beyond Central Park when I saw it for myself at a relatively slow speed - for some reason in my head the park is pretty much the top of the island, save for a few blocks, but in reality that couldn't be further from the truth. Granted, if you draw a line from Tito Puente Way (which runs east from the top-right of the park) up 1st Avenue straight up to the shore of the island, it's not even 1 mile. However start at 110th Street (which runs west from the top-left of the park) and go up 11th Avenue and onward as the crow flies to the shore, it's over 5 miles! That's actually a longer distance than from the south of the park to the southern tip of Manhattan at its longest point! I hadn't realised that at all.

Google Map of Manhattan - distances from park to shore

By the time we'd rounded the northern tip of the island and were passing The Cloisters on our left, we were starting to shiver a bit. I'd already had a warming cup of coffee and a warming cup of what was supposed to be chicken noodle soup but actually seemed to be pasta bow broth with two small, dry chunks of indeterminable meat in it. Even our tour guide gave up for a while and had a bit of a break from the cold, only returning to tell us about North River Wastewater Treatment Plant some time later.

The Cloisters from the Hudson River New York

By the time we were on the final stretch back to the terminal, the sun was beginning to set, casting a lovely orangey-red glow over the Hudson, Manhattan and New Jersey. It was still flipping freezing, don't get me wrong, but it was still very beautiful.

View of Manhattan at sunset from Hudson River

By the time we disembarked from the boat, we couldn't really feel our extremities any more. I may have fallen a little bit in love with the hand dryer in the ladies' restroom.

The next stage of our itinerary was to find a sports bar and settle in with some bar snacks and a few beers on time for the NY Rangers game against Tampa Bay Lightning, facing off at 7pm that evening. We'd heard good things about an Irish bar called Lansdowne Road, which was within walking distance of the Circle Line terminal and so made a (rather numb) bee-line in that direction. It felt a bit strange to come all the way from Northern Ireland to the USA to go to an Irish bar, but I'll give anything a try once.

When we got there we ordered some beers and, eager to try some real American bar food, some hot wings and a side of fries. The Yorkshireman and I love hot and spicy food, the hotter the better (challenge accepted!), so we of course picked the hottest ones on the menu. For our first few bites we thought, hmmm, these aren't that hot. Then the heat began to build. We went from being chilled to the bone to having rather pink faces pretty quickly! We did really enjoy the hotness of them actually, but I was disappointed they just tasted like Tabasco sauce to me, which I don't like the flavour of, although I don't know what else I was expecting really.

After our food and another beer we sat back and reflected on the atmosphere of the bar. Compared with the Flying Puck a couple of nights before, we found it lacked the right atmosphere for ice hockey and weren't particularly keen to stick around. Instead we paid up and headed back towards the now-very-familiar stretch by Penn Station and into the Flying Puck. This time we sat at one of the tables instead of the bar and a petite blonde server presented us with a menu.

We'd originally planned to watch the game and then walk to a diner afterwards for something to eat, but since we were now across the road from our hotel and didn't fancy doing much more than stumble back there after a few beers and some good hockeyin', we decided to top up our fries and hot wings with another shared portion, this time of chilli fries. Chilli fries aren't something we see on menus here very often but having sampled the Flying Puck's offerings, this is something which now disappoints us greatly - the fries were nothing special but the chilli more than made up for it. Yum!

Another few beers later (the staff at the Flying Puck are certainly attentive when your drink is running low!) and it had been a feisty game. The score was tied 3-3 and we were going to overtime. When, after only 2 minutes 37 seconds of overtime, NY Rangers scored, the bar erupted with the sort of unadulterated joy that only a sports fan whose team has just won and a small child on Christmas morning possess.

Quite merry now, in both the happiness and alcohol related senses of the word, I decided to grab a slice of pizza on the way back to the hotel, or specifically from a place on the opposite corner called New Pizza Town II. I went for a slice of vegetable pizza but it was actually pretty rubbish, especially given the price, which was nearly $5 - I hadn't realised until I had to pay. What a rip off! I felt ashamed to have paid more than $1.50 for it - what am I, a tourist or something?

Back in our wonderful hotel room, it was time for the Daily Show and Colbert Report in bed once again. Tomorrow we would check out of our lovely room and go get to know another part of the city a bit better. I was sad to leave behind the comfortable bed, amazing view and handier-than-anticipated kitchenette, although I was looking forward to a bit of a bigger bathroom. We decided to leave packing until the morning and went to sleep.

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