Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A Week In New York

Back in that long ago time of September last year, my sister, Charlotte, and her husband, Chris, moved out of their flat in London, and into an apartment in New York. Right on Fifth Avenue. They did this because the company Chris works for wanted them to. The company pays for their apartment. It also paid for them to fly out. First class. It's alright for some, eh? Sure, it's only a temporary move, and they'll (probably) be back in April, but still, not bad going.

Of course, when your sister's living in New York for seven months, it's only right and proper that you milk the situation for all it's worth, and fly out for a week to visit, and take advantage of the free accommodation your sister can provide. And so, on Saturday 28th January, my lovely girlfriend, Lisa, and I awoke and prepared for our lunch time flight from Heathrow Airport to JFK International Airport. At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately for us, we in fact woke up to the news that our flight was cancelled. Bugger.

A quick phone call to Thomas Cook, who we had booked our flights with, and we were booked on a later flight. With a free upgrade to business class. Oh, yes. We were flying with the important people. What did we get with our upgrade? Well, we could hang out in the business class lounge pre-flight. They had free wine, vodka and gin in there. We took advantage, naturally. On the plane itself, business class gets you many wonderful extras. Plenty of leg room, so a lanky bugger like me can actually stretch out, more free wine, and proper food. Seriously, dinner was one of the juiciest pieces of meat I've ever eaten, and it was lovely. And it came on a plate! With proper cutlery! Business class is awesome. Incidentally, we did check on the way back how much it would be to upgrade again. $3000.00 it turns out. Um... No. But getting that for free on the way out? Pretty cool.

Anyway, we arrived in New York, got through customs pretty quickly and took a taxi (or a cab, in the local vernacular) to Charlotte and Chris's apartment building, arriving there around 9:30 in the evening, at which point the terrifying happened: my girlfriend met my sister for the first time. It wasn't too long after that we went to bed, being tired with all the travelling and stuff we'd done. Even if I did get an hours kip on the plane.

When we woke on Sunday, we made our plans. Chris and Charlotte joined us for a quick walk down to Grand Central Station, which is basically just behind their apartment, then to Times Square (barely five minutes from their apartment), then on to Rockefeller Plaza (another five minutes). We watched the ice skaters outside for a bit, then explored the Plaza. And by explored the Plaza, I mean I dragged everyone inside the Nintendo World store where I geeked out for 30 minutes. Nintendo World is easily one of my personal favourite shops I've ever been in. I'm a huge Nintendo fan anyway, so their massive display of Legend of Zelda merchandise (celebrating the franchises 25th anniversary), as well as all the various DS and Gameboy displays were... Well, I could've just stared for hours. There were also numerous DS, 3DS and Wii consoles set up for people to have a go on. But, we had to leave eventually, so after picking up a Metroid t-shirt and a copy of the latest Professor Layton on DS, we exited the store.

Me with the Master Sword. Alas, I'm not the Hero of Time

Next, we hit the Lego store in the plaza. It's infinitely more impressive than the one here in Cardiff, with not only the usual assortment of Lego Star Destroyers and Batcaves, but a massive Lego version of one of the Rockefeller statues,a giant snake, and a complete Lego reconstruction of the entire Rockefeller Plaza. We managed to escape the Lego store without making a purchase, and Lisa and I decided we'd head up the tower.

Despite this being my third visit to New York, I'd never been up Rockefeller Tower. I'd done the Empire State Building, of course, but in a way, this was much better. The view from the Top of the Rock is spectacular, taking in all of Manhattan, including the Empire State. A lot of people have said this to me before, and I'm now in a position to agree, but I think that, during the day, Rockefeller Tower actually offers a better view than the Empire State. That picture up the top, with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in shot? Yeah, that's from the Top of the Rock. The Empire State Building is something you simply have to do, of course, but honestly, if you don't do Rockefeller too, you're missing out.

The afternoon was a little more sedate. We took a quick jaunt to Midtown Comics (without doubt one of the best comic shops I've been in. If you're a comic geek heading to Manhattan, you need to visit) to try and sell them Stiffs (they have a copy, but I don't know at this time if they'll be stocking or not), the four of us went and got coffee from Barnes and Noble (might have bought comics in here too, but only because Charlotte and Chris get discount) and walked back down to Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library and right opposite Charlotte and Chris's building. We sat here, drinking our coffees, and watching ice skaters. Again. However, it got cold pretty quickly, so we soon retired back to the apartment for the day. Then we had Five Guys burgers with Cajun fries for dinner. If you're ever in New York, find a Five Guys. The burgers are really good, and those Cajun fries are amazing.

Monday started, as many do, with breakfast. We hit a nearby diner for ours, and I foolishly ordered the Griddle Cakes Deluxe. They bought me two full plates of food, one with a stack of pancaked on it, the other covered with sausage, ham, bacon and eggs. I combined the two, so it looked like this:-

Somehow, I ate the whole thing. However, I didn't need to eat the rest of the day. Seriously, I could only manage about half my dinner that night. The rest of Monday involved walking. Charlotte and Chris had both taken time off work to join us, and we started out by getting a train to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked a way out on the bridge, then came back and walked around southern Manhattan, taking in South Street Sea Port, Wall Street, Battery Park (with a great view of the Statue of Liberty, which is currently surrounded by scaffolding), the World Trade Centre (we walked passed both the 9/11 memorial and the currently under construction Freedom Tower) and the Ghostbusters fire station. Oh, and I'm going to be on TV. We stopped off in a supermarket where the Food Network were filming... Something. Guess who wandered into the back of a shot and had to sign a release so they could use it? Yep. American readers, watch the Food Network! I have no idea when, but if you see a British guy in a Spider-Man hoodie in the background, it's yours truly.

And so to Tuesday, the first day Lisa and I were left to our own devices. The day started with us walking up Fifth Avenue all the way to Central Park (with a quick stop in the Nintendo World store as I... Um... Had forgotten my 3DS last time and wanted to collect any available Miis using Streetpass). We reached the park, and took an immediate right to FAO Schwarz. There, we looked at lots of toys, Lisa got attacked by a dinosaur, and I hd my picture taken with Spider-Man. Unfortunately, I was so good looking that day, the camera broke, and I never got my Spidey pic. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

After the toy shop, we hit the park itself, wandering around a bit until we came upon Central Park Zoo. We visited all the animal enclosures, including many birds (penguins!), snow monkeys, sea lions and a sleepy polar bear, but my personal favourites by a long shot were the red pandas. I'd never even heard of a red panda, but they were amazing. Around the size of a fox, and about the cutest creature you will ever see, the red panda apparently has a diet which means it likes to sit around conserving energy. According to the information board on the enclosure. No one told the pandas though, which were haring around like crazy things! They wouldn't stop moving, and Lisa and I were stood there watching, laughing and desperately trying to get a picture of them for a good ten minutes. We got 'em in the end.

The elusive, and seriously cute, red panda.

After the zoo, we walked further into the park, stopping to get a pizza pretzel from a kindly street vendor, exiting near the Natural History Museum. After looking at as many dinosaur skeletons and marine life exhibits as we could, we went back to the apartment.

That evening, we were visited by my cousin, Rhys, his wife, Anna, and their puppy, Ollie. We ordered pizza, then spent the rest of the evening trying to keep up with Ollie, who had far too much energy, and clearly thought the rug would look better elsewhere.

Wednesday was a slightly more sedate day. In the morning, we went inside the Public Library, where there was an exhibition going on. There were many interesting items, including some original pages from Frankenstein and the original toys upon which AA Milne based Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

That evening, I had promised Lisa a proper date in New York, and I duly obliged. Luckily for us, it was restaurant week in New York, which meant many posh, expensive restaurants were offering a set, three course menu for only $35. This excluded drinks and service, but is still a pretty good deal. We went to Marseille, a French restaurant the other side of Times Square, and had a delicious meal. This was followed by the two of us taking in a Broadway show. It will come as a surprise to no one to learn that the show we went to see was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

It was... Interesting. The show is camp as anything, and not all of it works. Some of the songs are quite poor, and I personally didn't like either the guy playing Spidey or the actress playing MJ. However, there was fun to be had, and the Green Goblin, who was clearly in on the joke, was excellent. After the show, we walked down Broadway to the Empire State Building, and took in the highest view of Manhattan at night. It's one of the most stunning views I've ever seen. When you do the Empire State, make sure you do it at night, as there really isn't anything else like it.

Manhattan at night from the Empire State Building.

Sadly, the date didn't end that well, as I managed to get a stomach bug that night. Fun. Thursday involved some walking around Brooklyn (once we got there, after the trains misbehaved and I inadvertently took my girlfriend to the dodgy part of town), and walking the high line (a park which used to be a railway line above the street), but I didn't enjoy them as much as I should've, as I still wasn't feeling great. Unfortunately, it looks like Lisa then caught the bug off me, as she began feeling unwell too, cutting our last night in New York a little short.

Still, we were both well enough on Friday to go to Shake Shack (a damn good burger, and another place I recommend if you ever go to NY) for lunch with Charlotte, before we began our long journey home. In standard class. Without the leg room. Or the steak. Honestly, $3000? Pffft.

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