Tuesday, 13 October 2009

... New York City: Imagine

Central Park is NYC's backyard, all 843 acres of it.

There are obviously a huge plethora of physical activities but also areas of calm & tranquility, cultural fun and, in parts, a wilderness that will have you convinced you are in the middle of a huge forest not a city.

Even during Winter, New Yorker's flock there. I have friends who have been proposed to and friends who have been married there. It's a wonderful place to lose yourself for several hours be it by foot, bicycle tires or horse drawn carriage.

"Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out.
It doesn't matter much to me."

In 1980, outside of the Dakota, John Lennon was fatefully shot four times in the back by a man for whom he had signed a copy of his Double Fantasy album for earlier in the day. Standing just across from this location is the most visited spot in Central Park. With help in the form of a $1M grant from Yoko Ono, the tear-shaped memorial garden Strawberry Fields was inaugurated on what would have been Lennon's 45th birthday, 9th October 1985 and has been maintained ever since.

There is a tiled mosaic. It says everything with just one word.


Central Park is one of two amazing sites of the Upper East Side. The second is the Metropolitan Museum of Art a.k.a The Met.

In 2001, my mother & I had opted to visit the Guggenheim and whilst amazing in its own right I had always had a tiny pang of regret at having not also been to the Met. I therefore couldn't think of a more perfect way to spend my last afternoon in New York.

Represented in the permanent collection are works of art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters and an extensive collection of American & modern art. The Met also maintains extensive holdings of African, Asian, Oceanic, Byzantine, and Islamic art.

Egypt Collection
Egypt Collection
Egypt Collection
American Wing
European Wing
Arms & Armour
Central America
Greek/Roman Collection
Greek/Roman Collection
"The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"... Tiger Shark by Damian Hirst
Van Gogh
This 17 acre wonder receives over 5 million visitors a year and it's not hard to work out why. Its size and the depth of its collections are overwhelming. I spent over 6 hours here and it still wasn't enough. It's like walking through a city and probably easier to get lost here than it is inside of Central Park.

But alas it was that time to make my way to JFK to catch my evening flight home. My itchy feet had taken a nice big bite out of the Big Apple... and it really couldn't taste any better.

Monday, 12 October 2009

... New York City: I Should Be So Lucky











Listen can you hear the distance calling
Far away but will be with you soon
Rocket into outer space in orbit
Take us to the pop stars on the moon

Ahhh, ahhhh, ahhhh, travel in light years.

I've been a fan of Miss Kylie Minogue since I was a kid. She was staring in Neighbours and releasing the likes of Locomotion & I Should Be So Lucky. Over 20 years later I finally got to see her live.

What can I say? Taking place at the Hammerstein Ballroom, the show was a two-hour post-disco fantasia of strobe, bass, and glitter—an all-out spectacle worthy of her screaming fans. And yes I was one of them.

She worked her way through a sizable songbook singing every song live... and sounding absolutely fantastic to boot. She has a surprisingly solid soprano witnessed in full effect during a a stripped-down version of “I Believe in You.” Seven jumbo screens pulsed background images for each number. Hits old (“Better the Devil You Know”), new (“Wow”), and soon-to-be (the upcoming single “Better Than Today”) whipped us all into a sustained frenzy.

She kicked Madonna's pilate'd arse right out of NYC. 

... New York City: Lest We Forget

Despite being on a trip, I had set my alarm for a semi-unGodly hour so that I could get up to go for a run around Central Park. Yes, I am one of those crazy freaks that will pack running gear when I go away. It was wonderful! Here I was pounding pavement in New York City! Booyeah! I was the only person in the park running around it in a clockwise direction. It was great. Oh yes, I'm definitely different.

After grabbing breakfast on the way back to the hotel and showering it was time to head out for another day of exploring. The plan was to head south west through as many neighbourhoods as possible below Central Park and the Upper West Side finishing up in Lower Manhattan and taking the FREE Staten Island Ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty.  My itchy feet like to be frugal and nothing beats free!

My first port of call was the Empire State Building, although having visited in 2001 I decided not to go in this time.

The Art Deco building is very impressive though and it is well worth a visit inside if you have never been. It was the World's tallest building at 102-stories from 1931 until 1971. Its full height to the tip of the pinnacle is 443.09 m. The indoor and outdoor observation decks are some of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world. The 86th-floor observation deck offers impressive 360-degree views of the city. There is a second closed observation deck on the 102nd floor that is open to the public as well. The floodlights illuminate the top of the building at night, in colours chosen to match seasonal and other events.

Perhaps the most famous popular culture representation of the building is in the 1933 film King Kong, in which the giant ape climbs to the top to escape his captors but falls to his death after being attacked by airplanes. I didn't see any apes today.

The Flatiron district is home to the distinctive triangular Flatiron Building.  It was also home to a Museum of Sex! *snicker* I didn't go in... honest!... but instead wandered around Madison Square Park as there were some neat artisan stalls set up before I hopped on the subway the rest of the way down to Lower Manhattan.

There are a few things that don't cost you an organ in this City. One of the top freebies is the Staten Island Ferry. This departs from Whitehall Terminal in Battery Park.

The 8km 25 minute ride gives some fantastic views and as good an experience as when I when I sailed to Liberty Island back in 2001, but minus the crowds. The best view of course is of the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. There in all her green glory Liberty has been guarding the entrance to Lower Manhattan since 1886.

It was however a sobering thought to look back at Lower Manhattan's skyline in 2009 changed so dramatically in a most diabolical & evil act 8 years previously.

Lower Manhattan includes the Financial District, home to Wall Street, Trinity Church, the New York Stock Exchange and of course Ground Zero. The WTC site was very strange to be around. You can't help but go to look but you feel kind of guilty for snapping shots of what is a place of death. You sense death in the air too. It's hard to describe but it's as though all the happiness you have ever known gets sucked out of you in and around that specific area. The site is a barren hole where construction of the planned memorial park seems painfully slow. I had wanted to primarily visit it not out of morbid curiosity but more out of respect. My mother & I had visited "Top of the World Trade Centre Observatories" in the South Tower prior to the tragedy.

There is a WTC Visitors tribute centre a non-profit ran by the WTC Families' Association with tours led by New Yorkers directly involved either through experience or loss of a loved one. That was a bit much for me however and instead I slowly made my own way around lost in my own thoughts. It is a very emotional place to be.

FDNY 10 House, located on Liberty Street is directly across from where the WTC stood, suffered significant damage and was nearly destroyed on September 11th. Five members from the Ten House made the supreme sacrifice - the youngest was 26.There is a massive bronze plaque that tells the well known story from the firefighters' point of view. You can't help but get choked, I had to leave.

"Courage is not the absence of fear,
But rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

411 emergency workers who responded to the scene died as they attempted to rescue people and fight fires. The FDNY lost 341 firefighters and 2 FDNY paramedics. The NYPD lost 23 officers. The Port Authority Police Department lost 37 officers and 8 additional EMTs and paramedics from private EMS units were killed. There were a total of 2,996 deaths, including the 19 hijackers.

Rest in peace.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

... New York City: New York State Of Mind

Sleep is over-rated... right? Isn't that what I constantly tell myself?!?! This meant I was going to ignore the fact that I was technically landing in the middle of the night and instead embrace the 3 hour time difference upon landing at JFK. I couldn't check into my Hotel until 11am anyway.

JFK is about 25km from Midtown in the far reaches of Queens. AirTrain JFK is the easiest way to get to, from and around the International Airport. Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, AirTrain provides easy connections with the MTA New York City Transit subway. All I had to do was look for the signs for Rockaway subway station and then from there get the train into Manhattan.

Public transit becomes one of your best friends. It smells a bit funny in places and makes me wonder "who you gonna call?" but it really does zip up and down Manhattan with such ease. All you need is a MetroCard.

I was staying in Times Square so decided to get off a few stops earlier in the Diamond District and get my itchy feet walking. Plus it was an excellent opportunity to eat breakfast.

Avenue of the Americas: Chrysler Building
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and the city was still, for most part, asleep. I grabbed breakfast to go and sat in Bryant Park taking in the 360 degree sights and sounds whilst refuelling. The Empire State Building, the Bank of America Tower, Bryant Park Hotel can all been seen from here. Perhaps more importantly the central building of the New York Public Library is in the park.

Bryant Park
The Empire State Building
Known as the "Crossroads of the World", Times Square consists of lots of dazzling neon lights - surely requiring a rather large shoe for its considerable carbon footprint. Running through it is Broadway where many have come nameless and penniless in a bid to get their name in lights.

My hotel was right in the middle of the hustle & bustle - fantastic! Yet my room was literally in the clouds and so well sound-proofed that you could peer down on the silent pseudo-ant world below.

All checked-in, day pack packed with cameras, it was time to go exploring.

Midtown East, from 30th Street to 59th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, is home to some of NYC's most popular sights. My little walking tour took in Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Rockefeller Centre & skating rink, Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the race for the tallest building in the world started and the Chrysler Building (1047 ft) was the first building to top the then tallest structure, the Eiffel Tower. It's distinctive architecture is a classic example of the Art Deco style. The gargoyles depict Chrysler car ornaments and the spire is modeled on a radiator grille. It has continued to be a favourite city symbol amongst New Yorkers.

Grand Central Terminal is the World's largest and busiest train station. It just happens to be housed in an architectural dream that is well worth a visit.

It is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them on two levels. When the Long Island Rail Road's new station, below the existing levels, opens, Grand Central will offer a total of 75 tracks and 48 platforms. You can't help but marvel at the beautiful gold-veined marble arches and the blue domed ceiling decorated with twinkling fibre optics.

It also has an upscale food market that is well-worth a stroll around even if, like me, you've already got your eyes on a pretzel from the stand outside for lunch.

There are thirty-eight Broadway theatres available to enthrall you with lavish spectacles. The price of many tickets though can be steep BUT there are ways to get heavily discounted tickets (including half-price).  NYC has three discount TKTS booths run by the Theatre Development Fund selling seats to same-day Broadway shows with the main booth located in Times Square. It is worthwhile queuing as there is usually a lot of very good options available including for the big Broadway shows.

Chicago is one of my favourite shows. Despite having seen it in Vancouver I was certainly more than happy to see it again. I mean c'mon, this IS Broadway! I did what we Brits do best prior to my personal walking tour and queued. This scored me a ticket for an excellent seat near the front of the stage for the 230pm matinee at the Ambassador. Surprisingly, the lead of Roxie was played by an entertainer whom I remembered mainly for being primarily ridiculed by the British media when I was younger. Noel Coward had once famously criticized her for her performance in a play as a child and I suspect that haunted her for much of her adult career too. However, I found myself being pleasantly surprised by Bonnie Langford's performance. It was certainly a bit of an "Up Yours" to the British Media who are often cruel and ruthless. The show was amazing... and all that jazz.

What an excellent way to lead into a relaxing evening of dinner & people watching.