November in NYC

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So to NYC.  I’d submitted a paper to the 2nd International Conference on Food Design to be held at The New School/Parsons and was delighted that it was accepted. My first international conference presentation, yippee! The conference was to be held over two days and I had a day either side to see some of the sights.

I have been to New York once before, coincidently I was similarly a student of Gray’s School of Art then.  During my BA (Hons) Design and Craft, the textile cohort went on a study trip to NYC to visit design studios, museums and galleries and generally soak in the experience of the Big Apple. We were in awe; the trip was like nothing I’d been on before. It was tinged with sadness however. We visited NYC five short months after the 9/11 tragedy. I remember the missing posters that lined the boards of Grand Central Terminal and was aware of the heavy movement inside a boarded up span that became known as Ground Zero.

Roll on thirteen years and I again had five days in New York, by myself. Yes, I was there for work but still wow. I had to keep pinching myself in the lead up to the trip and I don’t think I truly believed it until I was on the flight. Which of course worked out in a dramatic fashion. True to form, the weather in the North of Scotland decided to illustrate all the seasons in one day, culminating in a show of fog at night. This meant that the incoming flight couldn’t land and as a result the flight I was booked onto the next morning had no plane. No biggie, I got a text in the evening as I travelled by train to Aberdeen to say my flight was cancelled and by the time I reached the city and prepared to call the airline, I received another text to day I’d been booked on a slightly later flight the same day. Amazing service.

I flew KLM/Air France via Amsterdam and except for a few hours delay between transfers, the flight was uneventful. I managed to watch a couple of films from start to finish without interruption, wow, I’d forgotten what that was like and caught up on some reading too. I was really comfortable on the plane, the staff were polite and the food was good.  I could get used to this foreign travel for work………or so I thought then!

Having dropped my bags at the very central accommodation, Vanderbilt YMCA at 224 East 47th Street and headed out sans-coat, I soon got my bearings. NYC is one of those cities that appear instantly accessible and entirely safe, combining the bustle of the streets creates with the easily understood grid street layout.   Following a quick visit to the iconic Times Square and Grand Central Terminal and a walk-by of the Chrysteller and Empire State buildings, I headed home.

The first day I woke at 5am.  Taking account of the time difference (New York is five hours behind), the fact that I’d spent the whole previous day travelling and also that I wasn’t to be woken my the usual call of ‘Mum, I’m hungry’, I had expected to sleep much longer.  However, the early start mean I was out onto Fifth Avenue by 7am.  And the streets were already bustling, the taxi horns were beeping and the queues already growing in the coffee shops.  The day was my own to navigate through the huge array of sights, activities and attractions NYC holds.  First stop was the 9/11 Memorial and National Museum and I headed there for it opening (well worth arriving early for a visit, I had space to move throughout the building before it got very, very (squashy) busy around 10.30am.  Having experienced NYC so soon after the terrorist attack on my last visit, I was intrigued to visit site and explore what has emerged from the destruction. The scale of the footprint is huge, it’s difficult to comprehend just how large until you explore. The museum is considered and thoughtful, laid out to tell the story of the events and combines art, design, architecture and artefacts as its narrative. Extremely moving, I spent three hours within the building but came away feeling slightly uneasy and completely overwhelmed. You really need a number of visits to be able to experience the whole museum and I really question whether it is emotionally possible to absorb and interpret so much on one visit alone. On leaving the museum however, the contemplation and reflection that followed by the memorial pools, marking the footprint of the original twin towers was much needed and very welcome.

Lunch featured the lovely restaurant on 145 W Broadway, The Odeon and it was well worth a visit.  It was the height of lunch and I was lucky to get a table for one so book ahead.  It’s a great place to people watch, full of suits and skirts on working lunches.  After lunch I walked down towards Battery Park and viewed the Statue of Liberty from the waters edge.

Since I’d already done the Empire State and Lady Liberty previously (and was short on time on this trip), I did a hop-on, hop-off downtown tour bus with CitySightseeing.  I love a guided tour bus. I appreciate that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea and I do enjoy unguided touring too but there is something about hearing the narrative of the city, its stories and folklore that really brings a place to life. I LOVE a good story!

The Downtown Tour took in Times Square, Madison Square Gardens, the Empire State, the Flatiron building, Greenwich Village, Broadway, This took my by Wall Street,  China Town, the UN building and Central Park among other stops.  You can find the route map here.

That evening I also did a night tour (included in my 48 hour tour bus pass) and again it was well worth doing.  The view of NYC at night is incredible and the tour took me across to Brooklyn with an amazing view back towards Manhattan.  After the tour, I went for an amazing steak at Smith and Wollensky’s at 797 Third Avenue.  I had heard only good thing about this steakhouse and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  When you order a steak in Scotland, it’s (usually) served with chips, onions, mushrooms, tomato and chips.  When you order a steak at Smith and Wollensky, you get a steak on a plate.  And boy, it’s all about that steak.  I ordered a side of asparagus and it was, with all honesty, THE best steak I’ve ever had.

The next couple of days were very busy with the conference (I was, of course, there to work! More about that in the conference post) but I still find time to shop and eat some lovely food.  Actually food should come before shopping, I would quite happily pass on the shopping but I do love a good meal!

I spent some time in Times Square, did the big department stores (I had instructions to buy myself a new handbag, but failed miserably.  I really don’t do shopping!) and as dusk fell on my last night in NYC, I decided to do ‘Top of the Rock’.  I managed to arrive in a small lull and didn’t have to wait for my allotted time slot (which was an hour later) but I was told that the queue’s are usually horrendous as night begins to fall.  I entered the first lift, went fairly quickly through security and then entered the glass roof lift with about 14 other people, eagerly anticipating the journey to the top.  I’d heard much about the ‘sky shuttle’ and the projections inside the lift but in all honesty, before long we had accended to the top floor and it wasn’t the experience I was expecting.  Out onto the viewing platform and your breath is taken away, by both the sight of the Manhattan skyline at dusk but also by the wind.  And the cold!  So wrap up warm!  The view is spectacular but be prepared for the thick clear screens that act a a barrier.  There are a few gaps for you to view the skyline clearly but as darkness fell, I could see more reflections of my fellow spectators than I could of the sights.  Maybe I’m being too harsh, it was an amazing view and 360 degrees too but I was fairly quickly finished with my visit and ready to decend.  And that’s where the problems started.  The queue to get back down was sooooooo long.  I had to wait about 45 to reach the lift and felt quite claustraphobic packed like sardines into the small space.  I was glad to reach the bottom and escape.  Well worth a visit but not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry.

My flight home departed late afternoon so I had a few hours to squeeze in a few last minutes stops. First was a subway trip to Brooklyn for a visit to Artists and Flea Market. This eclectic collection of market stalls features a mixture of arts, crafts and vintage finds and is wonderfully inquisitive. After a meander through the wares on show, I took a short walk down to the coffee shop on the corner for a warming hot chocolate. This cute café is everything that I imagine NYC to be! Finally I took a walk towards the riverside and the promenade. From here I had an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan, another must see and an easy Sunday morning walk.

As I reflect on that walk, it reminds me that everyone in NYC runs, there are always a huge number of people pounding the streets in their brightly patterned lycra. And everyone cycles too. For all the iconic transport images, NYC is also extremely active. No doubt to keep everyone looking beautiful. Did I mention everyone also looks beautiful?! Ahhh,as much as I love to keep up with the high maintenance NYC lifestyle, I don’t have the stamina for sure!  Bring me home to Scotland……but please throw in a decent cowoffeeeeee too!

 

 

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