Friday, September 5th 2014
In Travelling west, I said we were going on a trip but not where we were going (other than in a westerly direction). From the title of this post you can discover our destination – New York. Yes, the one in the USA. This is our first visit to the nation of Mark Twain and Walt Disney, apart from a few minutes spent changing planes on a trip to Canada in 2006, and our first experience of New York. Whereas Tigger wanted to come here, I was not keen on the idea. Nothing I had ever heard or seen about New York appealed to me. Quite the contrary, in fact. So, the question was always going to be whether my prejudices be overturned by encountering the reality or whether they would be confirmed.
I usually recount our journeys chronologically and express my conclusions at the end. This time I am going to give the game away from the start. There is a reason for this, as I shall explain. The fact is that I disliked New York intensely and continually wished it was time to get on the plane for the ride home. As a result, I often found myself inhibited in taking photos and this means that a continuous photographic narrative is not possible. This account will be episodic and I will not always be able to set the pictures in a narrative context.
However, there were two things I liked. The first was that staple of films set in America, the diner. On our second day we chanced upon the New Apollo Diner in Downtown Brooklyn and, seated in one of its booths, I felt calm and at ease for the first time. We went there for breakfast on the following two mornings. The second thing I liked was another well known feature of New York, Yellow Cabs. The city is so big and sprawling and the transport network so complex for the newcomer that we were virtually obliged to use cabs on several occasions. The experience was a good one, both from the point of view of fares, which seemed quite moderate to me, and the level of service. London black cab drivers could usefully take tutorials from their New York counterparts.
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We left Heathrow on the 9:55 British Airways flight to New York. We had bought our tickets online and, as far as we knew, only needed to type the reservation number into one of the ticket machines in order to obtain our boarding passes. For such a short trip, we had only hand baggage and therefore did not need to register our luggage. We were puzzled when the machine, having read Tigger’s password, informed us that it was unable to process our reservation. There was nothing for it but to join the queue at check-in.
We presented our reservation and passports to the clerk, explaining the problem with the machine. The clerk checked our passports and asked whether we had obtained a visa waiver. I replied that we qualified for this as I had checked online. The clerk then told us that these days you actually have to register and pay a fee of $14. For a moment I saw our trip vanishing and wondered whether we could claim the the fares and hotel fees off the insurance… The clerk rescued us by saying that we could register online and that she would lend us her iPad Mini in order to do so. It took a few minutes for us each to register and entered our credit details for the fee. Having does this,we presented our passports and reservation to the clerk once more and she issued boarding passes, declaring us “Good to go”.
I won’t bore you with all the tedious nonsense involved in going through security. I did notice that despite all the publicity about needing to have your electronic devices charged up or risk having them confiscated, no one gave our mobiles, iPads and cameras a second look. There were free recharging stations at various points in the airport and some were being used but the much reported checks did not happen.
Aboard the plane, the seating accommodation was tight but just about bearable for the 7-hour flight. I had discovered from our trip to Canada that jet lag is not too much of a problem if you fly west. You just add to time difference to the length of the day and thus, in the case of New York, live a 29-hour day. Keep busy and the body is fooled into thinking it’s just a normal day.
We arrived at “JFK” – John F. Kennedy Airport. All airports look much the same and as we negotiated the corridors and concourses, we could have been at Heathrow or any other air terminal. It was only when we left and began to make our way to Brooklyn that I began to feel I was in a new country.
Tigger had the route planned and I just followed her in my usual dreamy way. We had our first experience of the Subway on the first stage of our journey to our hotel in Brooklyn.
We later took to the Subway, which brought us within striking distance of the hotel, though still with some walking to do.
We had checked the weather in New York before coming and I had not really believed the stated temperatures. They turned out to be correct, however, and throughout our stay, remained in the high 20s Centigrade. It was like turning the clock back and finding ourselves in the midst of the recent heat wave in the UK. Because of the heat, everywhere but everywhere has air conditioning. In the UK, air conditioning usually takes the temperature down to a comfortable level. Not in New York. In New York, everything is done to excess and that includes the air conditioning which makes indoor spaces icy cold.
Despite American film sequences suggesting the contrary, I imagined that the Subway would be something wonderful and better than the London Underground. It isn’t. The tube knocks spots off the Subway. Subway trains are longer than tube trains and can carry more people (we could do with that in London in the rush hour) but the trains are noisy and there are often long gaps between trains, so much so than on several occasions I wondered whether we were too late and the system had closed down for the night. (It hadn’t.) Sitting – or more frequently standing – on a Subway train, I felt as though I had been whisked back to the 1930s…
We started to walk and took a couple of wrong turns as Tigger’s Inner Pigeon had not yet entirely adjusted to the new longitude. (I am not in any sense criticising Tigger. I am hopeless at navigation and rely absolutely on her to find the way. I have nothing but praise for the way she usually leads us unerringly to our destination.)
After a cool Britain and a cold aircraft (it had been so cold on the plane that I spent the flight wrapped in the supplied blanket), the heat seemed oppressive and our bags, though comparatively light, seemed to become heavier as we walked… I am not blaming New York for this, of course. We could have taken a cab at any moment, had we so wished.
Our slow progress did at least give us a chance to gain first impressions of our surroundings and to take a few photos. In the above pictures, as you can see, I tended to seek out the quieter city environments but too often the scenery was more like this:
However elegant the form of a building and however tasteful its scheme of decoration, once you magnify it to the size of the typical buildings of New York it cannot but be overwhelming and ugly. How people can bear to live in streets that are windy canyons, rat runs between rows of obscenely huge buildings, is beyond me.
We eventually reached our hotel, the Sheraton Brooklyn. It was of course icy cold inside but I cannot fault the staff for courtesy and helpfulness. The room was not palatial but was good enough and because of the air conditioning, I could cover myself warmly at night and sleep snugly as at home.
We had bought adaptors so as to be able to plug our various pieces of electronic equipment into American electric sockets. The current in America is at 110 volts as opposed to 240 volts in the UK. I had read various and contradictory statements about compatibility issues on the Web but an assistant at Maplin had put us right: check your chargers are see whether they specify a voltage range of 110 to 240. If they do, you are fine; if not, you need a voltage converter. All our equipment was rated 110-240 so we had no problems.
We set out again and I took a photo of this church in passing, as it seemed dwarfed by the surrounding buildings. Tigger, with a twinkle in her eye, said we were going somewhere special, and I heard the words “Brighton beach”, which seemed counterintuitive. Perhaps I had misheard.
Anyway, we took rattly, clangy, noisy subway again (after waiting ages for a train) and found ourselves at Stillwell Avenue. Litter stops here, apparently, and so did we.
While you are looking at this picture of the subway station and…
…this panoramic view of the street in front of the station (click to see a larger version), I will explain that we had come to Coney Island, at the southern end of Brooklyn, a section of which really is called Brighton Beach (see map).
A large part of Brighton Beach is devoted to the Amusement Park. All the usual fun fair entertainments are there and various sorts of rides – the scarier, the more popular – were in evidence, their surprisingly slender metal work tracing patterns against the sky like writing in some exotic script. It was now evening and the daylight was beginning to weaken, as you can see in the following photos.
We progressed down to the water’s edge and walked along what I would call a promenade but which is actually known as the Boardwalk. Despite the fading light, it was still warm, though not as oppressive as earlier in the day, and there were plenty of people strolling and sitting and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
The beach is quite broad and composed of sand (unlike the pebble beach of its Sussex namesake). I was struck by the number of birds gathered on the beach and flying overhead.
People and birds shared the beach peaceably enough and the different species of birds mingled without any friction. There were species I recognized and some that were not familiar to me, one type in particular.
The birds in question looked somewhat like black headed gulls in their winter plumage (when black no longer covers the head but is reduced to a patch behind the eye) but with black legs instead of red. My best guess is that these are American laughing gulls.
Among the adults with their smart black, white and blue-grey plumage, were juveniles still dressed in brown. As with other species of gulls, some of these were pestering the adults for food even though mature enough to feed themselves.
As the sun set, bringing darkness to the scene, we terminated our visit and took to the subway again. This carried us across Brooklyn and under the East River to the southern end of Manhattan. Our purpose was to find a meal but we had to wander a very long time before finally choosing a not-really-Italian restaurant where we were served a rather indifferent meal.
We wandered around a bit and Tigger was happily taking photos but I was now in a thoroughly bad mood, wishing only to go back to the hotel and lose myself in sleep. When we reached the water’s edge, though, even I could see that the scene was worth capturing, with night cloaking the awfulness of the place and the lights and the moon shining so prettily.
Night covers a multitude of sins, though not entirely. I also took the following photo of a cliff-like building looming claustrophobically over us.
We also got a first glimpse of the tallest building in the western hemisphere, the One World Trade Center, with its illuminated mast, though at the time when I took the photo I did not know that that is what it was.
We turned for the hotel and went down into the Broadway/Nassau subway station where a surprise awaited us in the form of a set of murals made of tiles on a maritime theme.
These tiled murals were created in 1913 by Fred Dana Marsh (1872-1961) for the restaurant of the McAlpin Hotel. In 1989, the hotel was converted into a residential complex and the murals were on the point of being junked. Happily, they have been saved and are now on permanent display, albeit in less than optimum conditions. Because of their location in the station with the coming and going of people, it is quite difficult to photograph them satisfactorily. I managed to capture three of them and have arranged the pictures as a short slide show. You can find out more about the murals and see more pictures here. Curiously enough, the plaque installed by the murals in the station spells the artist’s surname wrongly (calling him “March”) and provides an incorrect date of birth (“1852”) which would have made him an improbably109 years old at death.
My last photo of the day was taken from the window of our hotel room. The view was not at all prepossessing so I took the picture looking down at the street below. Our room was on the 9th floor (given that this was New York perhaps I should say “only on the 9th floor”) but that’s impressive enough for someone with a phobia for heights.
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.
Sunday, September 7th 2014
Yes, today is my birthday so happy birthday to me! Also, this is our last full day in New York, so we had better make the most of it.
We started with breakfast at the New Apollo Diner then went to look for a bus. Tigger likes buses and prefers them to the tube or, in New York, the subway. She has an amazing, almost encyclopaedic, knowledge of London bus routes and soon manages to work out how to get around by bus in other cities as well.
Apart from a few of small differences (e.g. the driver sits on the left and the ticket reader words differently), New York buses felt quite familiar to us. We needed to change buses and asked the bus driver for information. She was very helpful and started to explain where we should pick up the next bus, then decided it would be easier to take us there if we didn’t mind waiting while she took her statutory break – an example of the sort of kindness and helpfulness will have met here. We didn’t mind waiting at all and that’s when I photographed the delightfully empty bus.
Arriving somewhere near our destination, we continued on foot and this gave me the opportunity to photograph one of New York’s 15,000 Fire Alarm Call Boxes. Usually just called Fire Alarm Boxes, they have two buttons, one for fire and one for police. In case you are wondering, yes, they do still work, but a shadow hangs over their future. The first alarm boxes were installed in 1870 but were then operated by a key and only solid citizens were given a key. If you were poor and your house caught on fire, I assume you had to run to the fire station to call for help. The key system soon ended and the alarms became accessible to everyone. Call 911 and you are first connected to an operator who asks which service you require; press a button on the alarm box and you are put straight through to the service you require (provided it is the fire service or the police). However, in this age of mobile phones, the alarm boxes are increasingly seen by city governors (aware of the cost of maintaining them) as redundant. Plans to junk them have been mooted but protest against this has so far ensured their survival. Statistics reveal that only 2.6% of alarm calls are now made from alarm boxes and of these, 88% are false alarms. In view of this, the future of the famous red boxes does not seem very secure…
We walked through a park which lies to the left (or west, if you prefer) of Brooklyn Bridge and is called, reasonably enough, Brooklyn Bridge Park. I think this is regarded as forming part of DUMBO (see New York 2014 – Day 2), though this theoretically lies on the other side of the bridge, between it and Manhattan Bridge. But who’s counting?
We went down to Pier 1, which is one of the stops on the route of the New York Water Taxi. Yesterday’s trip had left Tigger unsatisfied and, as for me, sitting on a boat was preferably to wandering the streets of New York.
Where people gather, there are food scraps and where there are food scraps, you find birds. While we waited for the Water Taxi, I watched the entertaining sparrows flitting about, hunting for crumbs. I think these are cousins of our house sparrows, once common in Britain but now in worrying decline. They looked very similar to sparrows in Britain, anyway.
We obtained information about the Water Taxi from a company representative. An amiable man, he was kept busy by information-seeking tourists of various nationalities. Many of them were Spanish-speaking and he talked to them fluently of their own language. This provides an opportunity for a Linguistic Note.
The official language of New York is (American) English. This is passably similar to British English such that mutual comprehension results approximately 99.9% of the time. There are nonetheless occasional misunderstandings caused by differences in vocabulary and in pronunciation. Some of these are understandable, such as when Americans call “kerosene” what we call “paraffin” in the UK, but some other misunderstandings seem odd, to say the least. For example, take the word “tomato”: I pronounce this with a long ‘a’ as “tomahto” but if an American calls it “tomayto”, I have no trouble knowing what he means; Americans, on the other hand seem perplexed if I say “tomahto” and ask me to repeat the word, eventually exclaiming “Oh, you mean tomayto!” as if they have just solved a difficult puzzle.
An anecdote on a similar theme involves a tour guide. She quipped that you could buy anything in Times Square except goods for the household interior. Tigger mischievously said “What about fridge magnets?” The tour guide appeared mystified and asked her to repeat “fridge magnets” several times, eventually exclaiming in relief “Oh yes, refrigerator magnets!” Even if “fridge” is not the current word in New York, how is it so hard to understand when linked to the word “magnet”?
This is all the more puzzling in view of the fact that a second language, Spanish, is widely spoken in New York to the point where many public notices are in both English and Spanish and many people who deal with the public are virtually bilingual – like our man at the pier. Whereas in London, if you try speaking, say, French, people become embarrassed and flustered, in New York, if you speak Spanish, people will usually reply fluently in the same language. Many New Yorkers of course come from Hispanic immigrant stock whose families still speak Spanish at home and in the local neighbourhood.
Many other languages are spoken in New York, of course, partly owing to tourism but mainly as a result of vast numbers of immigrants flooding into the US in the 20th century, bringing their culture and languages with them. In view of this widespread multi-linguistic experience, difficulty in understanding “tomahto” and “fridge magnet” seems doubly strange.
The Water Taxi eventually arrived and we were able to go aboard, flashing our New York Passes at anyone interested. This time we stayed on the upper deck and thereby had a better view of the surroundings.
We were treated to the usual discourse on the Statue of Liberty (“a gift of friendship from the people of France, made of metal only as thick as two dimes pressed together…”) and Ellis Island (“where new immigrants were processed by being asked 29 questions…”) and so on and so on. I preferred just to look at the scenery though I did take a photograph or two, including the one above of the Statue (well, you have to, haven’t you?) and…
water-borne traffic on the Hudson River, such as this sailing boat seen against the looming skyline of Manhattan.
We disembarked at Hudson River Park where we spotted this sculpture. It is by Stephan Weiss (1938-2001) and is known as The Apple, presumably a reference to the “Big Apple”, New York.
From there we walked into the maze of streets that is Manhattan. I would have liked to slip the expression “mean streets” into my account somewhere but have not so far managed it. Downtown Brooklyn can be rather grotty but nowhere that I have explored seemed particularly “mean” though it might well do so for some of the people we saw, street dwellers with their entire lives packed into a few bags or luggage trolleys. That is not a slur on New York, by the way, as there are homeless people in London too and no doubt in all the cities of the world. (Yes, in the photo that is the One World Trade Center. Again.)
We joined a tour bus (yep, our New York Passes, again) and submitted to a commentary on the streets we ran through and the buildings we passed alongside. (Don’t forget the bucket for tips at the end.) I took hardly any photos and none that I care to show you (apart from the one above, just to set the scene). Our guide was a personable woman, quite good at her job, who obviously enjoyed being the centre of attention. Yep, she was the one for whom a “fridge magnet” is an imponderable enigma. On these buses there is also a recorded commentary, cleverly synchronized by GPS with the position of the bus. It tends to be simpler and less colourful than the peroration of the guide but some might prefer it.
After our bus tour, we went rambling again and found ourselves at the Rockefeller Center. In front of it was a living artwork, as you see above. It is by Jeff Koons and is called Split-Rocker because it combines the heads of two toy rockers, a pony and a dinosaur, halved and stuck together. You will find more details here. In the third photo, a strange effect has been caused by sunlight reflected from windows passing through a water spray that comes on intermittently to prevent the plants drying out.
The Rockefeller Center is in fact a complex of buildings serving many purposes (see the Wikipedia article here). One of its buildings is known as the GE Building or “30 Rock”, and contains a viewing platform 70 floors up called “Top of the Rock”. Admission was gained with our New York Passes and up we went for another bird’s-eye view of New York but this time in daylight. The building is a “mere” 850 ft (260 m) high but the view is still impressive. I won’t bore you with an account of the shunting and shuffling necessary to get to the top but will just show you a selection of the pictures I took up there.
These pictures are affected by haze to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the direction of view. I am sure this is owing to weather conditions rather than my camera which is all other circumstances produced sharp images.
We passed in front of the main building of the New York public library, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. It was built in 1911 and the interior is magnificent by all accounts but we did not visit it this time. Maybe, if ever I am persuaded to come back to this city…
Outside the library is a pair of rather splendid lions of which I have pictured one. They were carved in Tennessee marble by Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923).
For dinner, Tigger took me, as a birthday treat (a birthday treat for both of us – the best kind!), to the Empire Diner. As you will have gathered, I have been quite taken by diners, finding them havens of peace and tranquility amidst the tooth-grinding chaos of this city. I can relate to diners as they are akin to British cafes or restaurants but, like their British cousins, they are all different, each having its own style and character. None more so than the Empire Diner.
Do we describe it as an Art Deco restaurant, as a retro venue or perhaps as a railway dining car that has gone off the rails and lost its wheels? Any and all of these descriptions fit. It was built by the Fodero Dining Car Company in 1946 (hence its railway car feel), was then abandoned but refurbished in 1976. Once more it closed, opened briefly in 2010, closed again, only to rise phoenix-like in January this year.
The service was friendly and helpful. (Our waiter was Australian and concurred with us that “No one here knows how to make tea”!) The food was, um, interesting and a little expensive but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. This is definitely one to revisit (if ever I am persuaded to return etc etc).
After this unusual but enjoyable experience, we retired to our hotel to rest. Tomorrow we return to London but only in the evening. We have the early part of the day to spend somehow in New York. How will we fill it?
Monday, September 8th 2014
This is our last day in New York and I am excited about going home to London and collecting Freya from the cattery. Our flight does not leave until 6:20 pm local time so we have the morning and afternoon to fill.
The flight takes around 7 hours and London is 5 hours ahead of New York, making an apparent journey time of around 12 hours. We shall therefore arrive at Heathrow at about 6:30 am. I know from our trip to Canada that jet lag, if it is going to happen, is worse when travelling east than when travelling west. My plan is to try to have a sleep, even a short one, on the plane in the hope that this will fool my body into thinking that I have spent the night and am now starting a new day. Will this trick work?
We went to the New Apollo diner for breakfast for the last time. It has served us well and I shall remember it fondly.
We entered the subway system at Jay Street station and travelled once more to Manhattan. We had a specific goal in view, to visit a well known building, famous for the beauty of its decor.
We had come to Lexington Avenue, number 405, to be precise.
Yes, we had come to the Chrysler Building in the hope of taking a look inside. The Chrysler Building was competed in May 1930 and for just short of a year, it was the tallest building in the world at a height of 925 ft (282 m) to the roof and 1,046 ft (319 m) including the spire. What ended its short-lived triumph? Why, the Empire State Building, of course, which beat it by a mere 408 ft (124.2 m) spire to spire.
Where the Chrysler Building still wins is in its design. Saying that the style is Art Deco is true but doesn’t do it justice. I think that architect William Van Alen achieved something unique that will remain unique for all time. The public is allowed into the lobby and can take photos. What the rest of the building is like, I have no idea and would like to know. The following selection of pictures will give you some idea of what we did manage to see.
In the penultimate picture, the “rottweiler gates” installed to admit authorized personnel only are obviously modern but they have been painted to make them blend in with the existing decor. The last picture shows what might seem to be a simple posting box for people to deposit letters in. It does serve that purpose, of course, but it is also attached to a chute that rises through the height of the building so that people can post letters on any floor and that these letters will fall to ground level where they are collected. I wonder whether mail ever gets stuck on the way down.
We started walking to our next destination and on the way discovered another piece of unusual decor, this time more Art Nouveau than Art Deco but not really either. The details shown below come from the façade of a branch of the Chase Bank.
Our last visit of the day and the tour was another famous landmark and symbol of New York. It is not a statue or a building that seeks, like the Tower of Babel, to reach Heaven. It is in fact a railway station. The third iteration on its site and build between 1903 and 1913, it is officially called the Grand Central Terminal but is more generally and affectionately known as Grand Central Station.
It is a large and complex building and, mindful of the passing of time and the need to get to Newark Airport for our return flight, we felt we had time only to look at the main concourse. This, though, was worth seeing and Grand Central is an impressive and handsome station. We might take a longer look another time. Now for the pictures:
The curved ceiling is painted blue to represent the sky and on it classical-style representations of the the constellations of the Zodiac have been delicately traced. This was an unexpected but beautiful element of the decor. What style do we ascribe to this legendary station: is it Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Modernist or does it have a quirky style all of its own? Maybe all of these. Some of the decorative details, are intricate and lyrical enough to claim allegiance to Art Nouveau. The vast open concourse, untroubled by pillars, invites you to stare, rotating on your heels, as you take it all in. Other people were taking photos, as we did, but the majority were standing waiting or hurrying to trains or the exits, no doubt grown blasé from frequent use of the station.
We had checked out of the hotel in the morning but had left our bags in its care. Though we had plenty of time, we preferred to collect our bags and make our way to the airport. It was preferable to spend time waiting there than to risk unforeseen delays later on. Newark Airport is quite a step away from Brooklyn, in New Jersey.
Back at the hotel, we had a snack lunch in the bar then went to reclaim our bags. Next, we had to think how to get to the airport. We decided to take a last ride in a yellow cab but, as I turned to ask reception to call me a cab, the man who had fetched our bags, overhearing our discussion, asked
“Do you require car service, sir?”
A little injudiciously perhaps, I said yes, and he led us across the road to where some limousines were parked, their drivers standing on the pavement chatting. We were ushered into one of these while our little bags were ceremoniously stowed in the capacious boot. The journey was quite long but was made interesting by the views rolling past the windows. Tigger got into conversation with the driver who proved to be an amiable chap whose first language was Spanish. Occasional misunderstandings caused hilarity.
When we arrived at the airport and our bags were rescued from the cavernous boot, the price of the journey was announced. It was a little steep but, on the other hand, we had had a pleasant trip and I had enough dollars left. Just to make sure, I repeated the price but in Spanish. This startled, then amused, the driver.
In the airport, we addressed the ticket machine and this time everything went smoothly. Our visa waiver details must have spread through the system. Once again we endured the tedious process of passing through security and sat down in the departure lounge to wait for our flight to be called.
The aircraft was much the same as the one that had brought us here. Don’t ask me what make and model it was as I have no idea. I dislike flying and to me a plane is a plane is a plane. This time, the passenger in front of me insisted in having his seat tipped back for the whole journey. Somehow I managed to arrange myself, if not comfortably at least not too uncomfortably. On the way in, the cabin temperature had been low enough that I, and many other passengers, had availed ourselves of the supplied blanket. This time, however, the temperature was warmer throughout the flight. I have been told that the cabin crew raise the temperature on night flights so as to encourage people to sleep thus leaving themselves relatively little to do. Whether or not that is the case, I did manage to sleep for a short time as per my plan. Throughout the flight, I watched the moving map on the back of the seat in front, enjoying our increasing proximity to a certain small island on the edges of Europe.
We landed at Heathrow somewhat after 6 am local time and walked through what seemed miles of corridors to passport control. Arriving in New York, we had been photographed, finger-printed and narrowly scrutinized with our passport photos held up beside our faces. Here, our passports were zipped through the machine and we were finished. We exited into the hubbub of the main concourse and made our way to the subway, er, I mean the tube. The good old London tube. Welcome home, Tigger and SilverTiger!