Saturday, September 6thth 2014
In preparation for our trip, Tigger had wisely made sure that we obtained a New York Pass each. At first sight, these seem expensive but, in fact, if you make full use of them, they save you money as well as sparing you the bother of buying tickets for the various facilities and amenities that they cover. They gave us travel on the subway and buses and free entry to museums and other attractions.
I awoke without feeling at all troubled by the time difference. There was no kettle in the room, just a coffee maker, and as we had not brought our little kettle, we had to forego morning tea. To make things easy for ourselves on the first day, we had breakfast in the eatery on the ground floor of the hotel. We were served with courtesy, efficiency and a level of bonhomie that would probably seem overdone in the UK but which is usual here. Then we set out into the streets.
The plan was to visit the New York Transit Museum. As the name suggests, this explains with appropriate exhibits and information, the history and development of transport in New York. One might say it is the New York counterpart of the London Transport Museum. The affable woman who served us breakfast was full of praise for the museum, saying that she went there “all the time”. We set out with high hopes.
As usual, while walking we observed the scene around us and took photos of anything that seemed worth photographing. Quite by chance, I took a photo of the New Apollo Diner, without any particular thought in mind. Unbeknownst to me, it would become one of my favourite places…
I was intrigued by this car park, and others like it, where, to save space, the vehicles are stacked four deep. The question this evoked in my mind was “How do they get the top one out?” I assume they must move the other three to temporary parking spaces first. Unfortunately, no one claimed any of the upper level vehicles while we were watching, so the question remains unanswered.
This building, looking a little like a 1930s hotel with its old fashioned entrance canopy, is in fact a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen. The church as a community was founded in 1913 and building of the church commenced in 1916.
When you eventually find the Transit Museum, it may puzzle you to find that it occupies the basement of a building and that you enter down a flight of steps. There is, however, a good reason for this: the museum is sited in a decommissioned subway station, Court Street. The museum is run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and covers the development of electric powered transport for both passengers and freight, bus, subway and train systems, and a few other things as well. There are some standard glass-fronted displays and a lot of information boards. Much of this information is of a technical nature interesting, I imagine, to a relatively small percentage of visitors.
After struggling with the technical stuff and reaching the old station platform, you find that the two tracks are filled with stationery vehicles, all of different ages, all used on New York’s transport system at some period or other. If you are a railway buff, this is probably interesting to you, otherwise, after the first few examples you begin to get that “a train is a train is a train” feeling. The above carriage is unusual in that it is a survivor from when subway carriages were built of wood, which is no longer the case. Wood ceased being used on the subway after an accident in 1918.
Interesting and worth seeing? Yes, I suppose so, especially as our New York Passes gave us free admission. As good as the London Transport Museum? No, I don’t think so, not by a long chalk, though having everything crammed into a small space probable cramps the museum’s style somewhat.
Emerging from the museum, we set off again. We felt, though, that it was time for refreshments. Museum visiting is thirsty work, especially in a hot climate! But where to go? Serendipitously, our gaze fell upon the New Apollo and so we went in. We were speedily ushered to a booth and given menus. For the first time since coming to New York, I felt comfortable and at ease. I relaxed and looked around me: pleasant decor, comfortable seating, attentive staff. I could have stayed there all day! We had intended just to have a drink but had lunch as well.
I don’t know whether this is general in New York diners but in the New Apollo, barely are you seated when a waiter rushes up, plonks glasses on the table and fills them with water and ice cubes. This happened on every visit. The ice water is no doubt intended as a palliative for the heat you have accumulated while walking in the street.
If ever I should be persuaded, cajoled or coerced into coming to New York again, the New Apollo Diner will be the one place I will want to visit.
I could see that we were heading towards the waterfront area but Tigger’s remarks about “Dumbo” went over my head. I logged them for future reference and concentrated on taking photos. It later turned out that she was not calling me Dumbo or referring to the flying elephant in the Walt Disney cartoon film. In the context of Brooklyn, Dumbo – or, rather, DUMBO – is the name of a place,…
…to be precise, this place, or rather, the area into which this view fits. The rather artificial acronym, DUMBO, supposedly stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass and refers to the area between the two bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Right: there are two bridges that cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan, so guess what their names are? One is called the Manhattan Bridge and the other, the Brooklyn Bridge. You would never have guessed, eh? (No it doesn’t mean that you have to go to Manhattan on the Manhattan Bridge and come back to Brooklyn on the Brooklyn Bridge. At least, I don’t think so…)
We were heading towards the historic Fulton Ferry Landing, once the terminal for ferries between Brooklyn and Manhattan and today a famous sight-seeing spot where, among other customs, wedding couples like to have their photographs taken for some strange reason. On the way we passed by what at first sight appears to be a huge fish tank. The glass enclosure shelters a beautiful old time carousel, complete with painted horses. It was originally built in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It was taken up by Jane and David Walentas and after 20 years or so of restoration work, was set up in Brooklyn Bridge Park where it is known as Jane’s Carousel. When Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012, flood waters reached the carousel but retreated without causing serious damage.
What is yellow like a New York taxi, speeds around like a New Taxi and is called New York Water Taxi? Why a tour boat, of course! In the modern parlance, it is called a “hop on, hop off” service, because it performs a circular journey stopping a several points and you can get off or get on at any of them. Once again, our New York passes allowed us aboard without paying.
During the trip, there is of course one of those turgid discourses broadcast over a loudspeaker where the guide alternates well known facts about the view with requests not to forget the bucket for tips at the end. If you just want to go on a boat ride in New York Harbour and a little way up the Hudson River, then it’s fine. The view from the boat didn’t seem worth photographing because, apart from anything else, we were inside which meant photographing through a none too clean window. I did take a couple of photos, just to show willing, as it were.
The first is a view of Manhattan from the Hudson River and…
the second , that ubiquitous symbol of New York, the Statue of Liberty (aka La Liberté Eclairant le Monde), taken through smudged glass. It was made in the 1880s by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and presented, as the guides never tire of declaring, as a gift from the people of France.
We started exploring Manhattan from the west side but first we needed to make a stop to take on fuel.
In West 34th Street, we found the Skylight Diner. It was very different from the New Apollo but, never mind, refreshments would be available. We entered and a waiter immediately came and asked us what we wanted. After a moment’s reflexion, we settled on iced tea. We sat at a table near the door. The manager then appeared and asked us what we wanted. He seemed wary of us or suspicious, though I cannot think why. We said we had already ordered iced tea and he went away. We drank our tea, paid and left, having taken a souvenir photo.
We wandered about for some time but I grew tired of photographing the same sort of scenery of endless streets of sky-stealing buildings, so I put my camera away and acted the dumb tourist.
Later, to our amused surprise, we found a branch of Pret A Manger (our most usual weekend breakfast place in London) and had a snack there to keep us going. It was odd to sit in familiar surroundings… but far away in New York.
We decided to do the tourist thing and go up the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building at 1,454 ft (443 m) was the world’s tallest building from its construction in 1931 until the North Tower of the World Trade Center displaced it in 1971. Today, the title goes to the One World Trade Center at 1,776 ft (541 m), including the spire. The viewing platform is much visited both for its splendid views and the novelty standing at such a great height.
Once again, our New York Passes sufficed to gain us admittance. Visitors are, not to put too fine a point on it, herded along roped walkways and packed into lifts (“elevators”) to reach the viewing platform. There are queues to get in and queues to get out again. To be fair, though, the building was not designed for such a large “throughput” and marshalling of the crowds is necessary. The marshalling staff were firm but polite.
The viewing platform was crowded of course and people lined the railings shoulder to shoulder. You needed to be patient and quick to seize an opportunity. Seeing the city spread out like a map (a map that apparently extends to infinity) was a new experience. It would be churlish to pretend not to be impressed by the view. Fortunately, daylight was fading and the lights were coming on and any city looks more magical at night than during the day, yes, even New York.
I took quite a few photos but will bore you with only a few of them, posted below without individual captions. If you know New York, you might be able to work out which parts are shown but to me it is all terra incognita.
Incidentally, the name Empire State Building comes from one of New York’s many nicknames. New York is a city but also a state and has for a long time been known, whether affectionately or ironically I do not know, as the Empire State. It is now uncertain who called it that and why but its wealth and political importance are no doubt at the root of it. If you want to know more about the Building, there are plenty of references on the Web, including, as you would expect, the eponymous Wikipedia article.
As for us, the day had been long enough and busy enough and we were happy to brave the subway and return to the hotel. Before leaving, however, I took this last photo, looking up the building that we had just visited.