The Big Blog about The Big Apple

by Suw on October 13, 2003

Finally and at last, my blog entry about New York. Most of this was written on my Velo at the time, with additional details and general tidying up done today. I’ve selected the best of the photos, quite a laborious task considering I took so many. I really must learn some restraint one day.

Anyway, hope you enjoy my little tour of NY.

Sunday 5 October 2003
Before you ask, last night's celebrity cameo was from Lisa Kudrow. Bizarrely, I was watching Friends with her, lounging round on a huge enormous sofa. Her hair was short and curly, btw.

I actually had thought, when I woke at 5.30am, that I was going to have a night pass without a celeb appearing. Oh, how wrong I was.

Our plane

Currently sitting on a lovely 747-400, cruising steadily at what ever height we're cruising steadily at. I'm sitting next to Simon Smith, and have spent that last few hours talking about things that one doesn’t expect to be talking about on planes to New York, such as bands and sci-fi and such.

The journey so far has been smooth, but I'm hoping we might get a bit of turbulence before we land in NY. I like a little turbulence – it’s like a free rollercoaster ride except in much more comfy seats and without the log flume at the end. I hope.

Donnie Darko eat your heart out. Our engines are far prettier

We got upgraded to premium economy – the food (I chose the steak) was just beautiful and the service is excellent. I have to say I'm quite impressed and would be quite happy to travel like this more often. Well, I’d just be happy to travel more often, full stop.

I'm hoping to watch the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen later. [Note: I didn’t quite get round to it.]

Anyway, everyone's at the bar, so I feel strangely compelled to join them.

Simon and me at the bar

Two of my travelling companions: Stuart and Helen

Min and Helen

* ** *** ** *

Am in hotel. Is midnight GMT. Feel like have been hit by truck. Of course I can't go to bed right now, cos it's only 7pm here and if I pass out now I'll wake up at something like 4am local time, which is no good to man nor beast. I really do not want to be up and about tomorrow morning at some ungodly hour waiting for the rest of New York to wake up.

I'm so tired.

The flight went really quickly, not is small part to the proximity of the bar to my seat. Met two lovely guys, Patrik (the Swede) and James (the Brit), who helped the time pass pleasantly, along with copious quantities of champers, wine and eventually port. Wish I'd had a bit more of a chance to talk to them as they seemed like interesting people.

James, me and Patrik


I had meant to watch a film or two, but I kept missing the start time and then suddenly we were at JFK. And frankly, doesn't JFK look just like Heathrow? Except newer and shinier and with more but smaller terminals that aren’t clogged up with building work and people.

Ok, so that’s not really much like Heathrow at all, but from the runway all airports look the same.

We got a taxi to Manhattan, which was driven by a lovely guy who chatted to me all the way into town. 22 and from India he was, and cute as buttons. Seemed very interested to know all about London and England.

As we drew closer the view of Manhattan in the sunset was astounding. Just beautiful. We took what I’m guessing was the Queens Midtown Tunnel (toll $4) and then there we were, in town.

The hotel is a little crappy hotel, I have to say, but it was cheap and you get what you pay for. We’re going out for a walk now to try and kill some time before getting an early night. (Well, early EST, very late BST. But it’s all relative.)

Will write more later.

* ** *** ** *

It's 03.15am BST. I am knackered. I've been awake nearly 21 hours and I hope that as soon as my head hits that pillow, I will be log-like.

Monday 6 October 2003
Oh, how cruel a night. I was utterly knackered but I hardly slept at all. Partly, I think, it was the air conditioning making a racket, partly just the whole over-tiredness jet-lag thing.

Anyway, some more details about yesterday.

We went for a walk last night up to Times Square (which doesn’t seem square at all really), to look at all the pretty lights, then on to the Empire State Building. We decided to spend our 11 bucks and go up to the observation level. It was a bit like being cattle though, herded down escalators, round queues, up escalators, have your snap taken whether you like it or not, up a lift, up another lift then finally out into the fresh (relatively speaking) night air to look at more pretty lights.

And the lights are pretty, I'll give you that. Not sure how the pics will come out, but we'll see.

New York by night

The Chrysler Building. Pretty, huh?

One thing I was disappointed at was the generally grotty state of the building – the paint's all dirty, the ceiling tiles old and ugly, generally it all looked distinctly tatty. There was a lot of scaffolding round the bottom of the building, though, so I can only hope that means that they're doing the place up a bit. As a national landmark it should be in tip-top condition, not looking like some manky bit of 20s tat.

We walked back to the hotel then. I couldn't quite get over the fact that steam really does issue up from manhole covers in the streets, along with the aroma of maturing sewerage. The Subway really is just feet under the surface, unlike in London where it's mainly buried well below street level, and you can hear the trains rattling under your feet.

When I lived in Tooting Broadway, where the Northern Line is relatively shallow, I had a room right over the top of the line. Laying in bed, I could hear the trains rumbling beneath, just like the Blur song. Couldn’t help but remember that as I stood with the hot air wafting up my trousers.

Also saw the biggest mofo cockroach since Townsville, QLD, in 1990. It was huge and it walked down the street as if it owned the place.

When we are all dust, humans all just a blot on the history of this planet, the cockroaches will still be here.

The view from our hotel window

Anyway, going to go and get breakfast now.

* ** *** ** *

Breakfast was a bagel, but I was almost too tired to eat it. Stuart and I met up with Min and Helen, then went over to City Center to pick up our Eddie Izzard tickets for tomorrow. Only the foyer was open, but it’s a great building – fantastic inside. Again, scaffolding surrounded it (there’s lots of scaffolding in NY right now, it seems) so I guess they’re polishing it up a bit.

Closest I’m ever going to get to Eddie

City Center

Wandering through the streets of NY, it's hard not to get a crick in one's neck from constantly looking up. There are some truly great buildings here, some fantastic architecture.

Helen, Stuart and Min outside Au Bon Pain.

We had a cuppa at the Au Bon Pain next to City Center, then went down to Central Park where the agricultural aroma of horse shit made an interesting contrast from the usual NY aromas of roast peanuts, garlic and sewers.

There’s sky up there somewhere

A building with trees on.

More random buildings. I just like buildings, ok?

The Plaza. Very snazzy.

We took a walk through The Plaza hotel – nice floors, nice chandelier – then caught a tour bus to do the Downtown loop. Felt a bit like a rip off at first, but Brian, our guide and Angel (it was worth the 35 bucks just to find oneself on a bus being driven buy a guy called Angel!) were most entertaining.

Thence on the bus past various landmarks, such as the Empire state, Macy's and the Flatiron Building, down to City Hall.

Times Square

Empire State Building

Not sure which building this was, but it was terribly important and posh.

We got off the bus then and walked to Ground Zero. It's hard to describe my emotions at seeing the huge pit that is now where the Twin Towers used to stand. The hole itself is over six storeys deep, subway train lines exposed like arteries whilst the station is rebuilt, the side of an underground parking lot open now to the air, cars parked right up to the edge of the abyss.

Near the fence that surrounds the pit stands the girder cross that was found in the wreckage. Standing now on its own concrete plinth, it’s an almost secular symbol of survival.

It is utterly impossible for anyone who had never seen the towers standing to imagine how they would have looked, how they would have altered the skyline.

The damage to nearby buildings is still not all fixed. To the north of the site is a red brick-clad building, patchily shrouded where the damage is still to be repaired. To the south, a shell of scaffold draped in black engulfs two whole skyscrapers, from one of which hangs a banner declaring “The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart”. Even the shrouds are now showing signs of wear. Windows on other buildings remain uncleaned, the dust clinging to them, making them whitely opaque.

I'd wanted to go, wanted to try to make it seem more real and not like some special effects sequence trotted out for the sake of dramatic emphasis. And it was real, it was very sad, very emotional.

Most upsetting were the little things: a simple epitaph written on the fence that surrounds the pit – “Forever in our hearts Uncle Don”; concrete shattered off the corner of a nearby building; windows still boarded; the new red of the fire station; the closed shop that might never open again.

Words can't describe the emotions I felt walking around Ground Zero.

From Ground Zero, we walked into the World Financial Centre and went into the most incompetent Starbucks I've ever patronised. How hard is it to make a cup of coffee? (Or in my case, hot chocolate?)

We eventually got our beverages, we sat for a while on the terrace that fronts on to the Hudson River and watched the world go by in peace. (Although we were harassed by sparrows, which really showed no fear – hopping on to the table as if they owned it. What is it with the wildlife here?)

Walking back through the World Financial Centre, tucked away in a corner, there was a display of the buildings planned for the Word Trade Center site. It was hard to get a decent photograph of it because of the reflections and lighting, but it looks like it will be quite something when it’s finished. If the mock-up of how Manhattan will look when building work is finished is anywhere near accurate, it will be a beautiful addition to the New York skyline.

“To commemorate those lost lives, I created two large public places, the Park of Heroes and the Wedge of Light. Each year on September 11th, between the hours of 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit and 10:29 a.m., when the second tower collapsed, the sun will shine without shadow, in perpetual tribute to altruism and courage”
– Daniel Libeskind (Architect)

The onwards to Battery Park wherein the battered WTC globe now stands. It’s amazing that it survived almost intact, but each one of those scratches on what was brilliantly polished bronze is a piece of building coming down, each dent, each hole, another girder. You can’t look at it and not be awed.

We walked then down to the river front and sat, watching the ferries go across to Staten Island, Liberty Island and Ellis Island. It was beautifully warm in the sun, far warmer than I had expected.

After a while, we wandered back, hopped on the bus again and went up the east side of the Island, past the rather aromatic Fulton Fish Market, the Brooklyn Bridge (how nice of the Americans to name a bridge and an entire suburb after little baby Beckham, eh?), hopping off at East Village.

We walked then back across to Bleecker Street where we had pizza at John's Pizzeria. I have to say, it was very good pizza – best pizza I’ve had in years, in fact.

Across the road from John’s was an internet caf?, so I stole a half hour to blog, then we headed back to the hotel.

Tuesday 7 October 2003
Celebrity Cameo – Simon le Bon. I had really hoped we'd have got past this by now!

As our bus tour tickets were for 24 hours, we caught the bus again just off Times Square down to Battery Park. Although we covered the same ground that we did yesterday, it was good to see it again and get a different commentary. After all, you see different things a second time round.

One thing that I was totally unprepared for in New York was the architecture. I don’t know why, but I’d expected everything to be either glossy, glassy and new, or some sort of 70s monstrosity. Nothing prepared me for the amazingly beautiful architecture to be found throughout Manhattan. The ornate windows and frontings really are something else completely. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in London. Unless you’re in Barbican, of course.

I took loads of photos of pretty much every building that took my fancy, but here are the best of them. (Sometimes I think I should do some sort of architecture appreciation course. Other people’s holiday pictures tend to be of the people they’re with – mine are always either buildings or views. What does that say about me, I wonder?)

I also love the way that the roads are for the most part all so logical, avenues running north-south, streets running east-west. This results in a canyon-like feel to certain parts of the city, the skyscrapers rising up above you to either side and hurtling into the distance without so much as deviating a millimetre from their path.

Canyons in Manhattan

Of course, this all goes to pot Downtown, much to the confusion of almost everyone, from what the tour guide said. Although if you’re used to navigating in London (where the practice of taking a left, another left and then a third and fourth left in order to find your way back to where you started is about as sensible as riding a unicycle round the M25 during rush hour) then Downtown’s easy. Roads don’t run at right-angles? Bah. What’s a right-angle?

New York being New York, we saw a number of film industry trucks littered about the place, particularly around the Civic Center and courts where they film Law and Order, for one. No idea what they were filming, but I did find myself wanting to stay and watch as cameras rolled down sidewalks and actors strolled through parks.

I think my favourite building in New York is the Woolworth Building, once the offices of Woolworth’s, now converted into residential apartments. It’s just the best example of the gothic style that’s sprinkled around the city. I cannot imagine how fantastic it must be to have one of the turret apartments. Just think of the view!

Once we got to Battery Park we disembarked again (we never did complete the loop) and caught the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. We didn’t get off, just chilled out on deck, taking in the views and people watching. The views of Manhattan from the boat were fantastic.

It was a shame we didn’t get to take one of the little water taxis – painted yellow like their four wheeled friends. Hm, I wonder if this would be a great market for an Aquada – water and land taxi all in one! Fares’d have to be steep though?

Once we’d docked again at Battery Park, we took at look at some of the stalls there, most of which were selling photos. And some very nice photos they were too. I succumbed and bought my only real NY souvenir, a framed print(out) of two photos of the Manhattan skyline.

We took the subway, the 4 line, up to Brooklyn Bridge, then the 6 to Spring Street. It was sometime around 3pm by then, so we had a very late lunch (cheese platter, if you’re interested) at the Manhattan Bistro. The barman was called Carl, I believe, and he was both very cute and very friendly.

My one regret as regards this trip is that I didn’t get to talk to enough New Yorkers – I wish I’d had a bit more time to sit and chat about life in the city with the people that lived there. I found the Americans I met to be very friendly, and it would have been nice to have found the time to talk about commonalties and differences. It’s all well and good doing such things on the net, but in person you get so much more of a feel for what the deal really is.

Anyway, Carl (or it could have been Karl, I’m not really sure), chatted to me for a while about housing prices and such, which might seem mundane but I thought it was interesting, until I was oiked away from the bar to sit at a table facing the street.

When lunch was done we took the 6 up to Grand Central Station. It’s a pity that my pictures of that didn’t really come out well enough to post, because it’s an amazing building. And it has one of the biggest flags I’ve ever seen hanging inside!

I’d been told that the Stars and Stripes is everywhere in NY these days, possibly everywhere in America, but I couldn’t believe just how prominent a place it takes. You just don’t see the Union Jack draped over everything in London, so it’s quite a surprise to start with. After a while, though, it just becomes a bit like those potted box trees that are cut into spirals. You see those everywhere too, but you just don’t register them after a while.

From there we walked across town, through The Diamond District which is very aptly named (those weren’t diamonds, they were knuckledusters!), back to hotel.

We split up then, Stuart and I deciding to dine early, Min and Helen deciding to eat late. Stuart and I found a small Italian place called Don Giovanni Ristorante at 358 West 44th Street. It was a nice restaurant, and the food was pretty good too really. Not too processed, which is the big failing of most of the food I came across in NY.

Then it was back to the hotel on West 45th Street (see, I’m getting used to this now!) to change and have a flute of champers before going out to the gig at the City Center (on 55th Street between 7th and 6th).

Walking through the city to the venue, I regretted not taking my camera. The moon hung near-full between the skyscrapers. For a moment there I felt that I truly was in Gotham, just waiting for Spider-Man or Batman to appear, standing on some gothic gargoyle ready to leap down from the heights to rescue the vulnerable and right wrongs. It was like being in a film for a moment.

But then we came to the venue, the moment passed, and I was back in the real world.

I’ve seen Eddie Izzard a couple of times before – first on his Definite Article tour back when he was just starting to make a name for himself. We had cheap standing tickets, but I laughed so much I nearly ruptured something. I certainly pulled muscles. Stuart and I also saw him doing a benefit gig for the Prince’s Trust years ago, which was just after the Dress to Kill tour, I think.

This was the Sexie tour, and boy, did Eddie look sexie as hell. The gig was fantastic, I guffawed and chortled and snarfed and generally had an astoundingly good evening. The bit about the sirens really stuck in my head, but I’m not even going to try to explain. I just hope that they do a video because I laughed so much I think I missed bits. Of course, he’s doing a tour in the UK in a couple of months, but I have no money and no tickets so I won’t be going again.


Unless anyone wants to take me?

Wednesday 8 October 2003
Celebrity cameo – more like celebrity starring role actually – was by Tim Burgess plus the rest of the Charlatans. We were filming a documentary and a music video.

[Didn’t have much time to write, hence today’s entry is tomorrow’s.]

Thursday 9 October 2003
Back in the UK, in the uber-hospitable environs of Heathrow Terminal 3. Never did like T3 – small and ratty terminal. Have another hour to wait for my coach back to Ringwood, so figure I may as well write more blog. Feel deceptively chipper considering I had only a couple of hours' sleep on the plane and that my inner clock should be telling me that it's 3am. Maybe it's the fact that I've had a night. It got dark, I slept, I woke up just as it was getting light again. My body has been fooled into thinking that I've had a proper night's sleep.

Course, that will undoubtedly wear off. Probably at about lunchtime.

Not sure now whether I should go through yesterday chronologically or backwards. Chronologically, probably. I'll give it a go.

Didn't get up to early. Min and Helen wanted to take a bus tour through Harlem, something neither Stuart nor I wanted to do. Instead we had a leisurely brekkie, checked out leaving our bags with the concierge, then headed downtown.

Got some stamps, posted postcards, then wended our way to the Easy Internet Cafe. Now, I know it's a relatively sad thing to go all the way across the Atlantic to America and then spend time, any time at all, on the internet, but I just wanted to do it. Sad, possibly. Fun, yes.

Of course, my blog was down, which was rather irritating, so I couldn't blog anyway. Sod's Law in full swing. So I checked my spam, er, I mean, email instead.

Off then to Midtown Comics. Up a wee flight of stairs into comics heaven. My budget was limited so I couldn't blow a small fortune on comics, which was a shame considering how much cheaper they are there. I could never have fitted a decent number of comics in to my luggage anyway – it's full to bursting as is. I did get Issue 3 of 1602, though, and the Endless Nights Special.

Thus do chuffedness and horsedness go hand in hand.

Walked down to Macy's – Stuart wanted to buy a pair of socks as his were wearing through, but it seemed that there were none available that suited. All contained nylon and apparently he wanted pure cotton.

I must say, our hotel – the Milford Plaza – really should have been called Nylon City. The beds were made up with a 100% nylon blanket, nylon counterpane and it’s quite possible that there was some nylon content in the sheets as well. Certainly the carpet, curtains and soft furnishings (such as they were – I don't want to go talking this place up too much) were nylon.

I'm worried that nylons must be close to extinction now, so much were their fibres used in this place. Nylonarama.

Whilst Stuart contemplated the sock replacement options, I found myself handily close to a very large wide-screen TV that just happened to be showing Spider-Man. The scene where the Green Goblin attacks Times Square.

'Coo,' I thought, 'I've been there!' I'll have to watch that film as soon as I get home so that I can get that nice stab of recognition for each bit I've now been to.

After giving up on Macy's, which may be the largest shop in the world but is a bit cack if you ask me, we wandered aimlessly back up towards Central Park.

As we were walking up Fifth Avenue I got one of those sudden stabs of recognition. OK, so my memory had been prompted by catching the snippet of Spidey (and the giant Spider-Man banner hanging outside Midtown Comics, and all the Spider-Man comics I only just didn't buy), I was well chuffed to see New York Public Library.

You can't help but half-recognise most of Manhattan from what you've seen on TV, but it was cool to see that particular bit from the big screen.

We saw the Chrysler Building too, although the morning was hazy and the photo’s just too fuzzy to post. We walked up then past St Patrick’s Cathedral, which is just so incongruous, so unexpected. We went in and looked at all the shrines and the stained glass windows. Quite astoundingly beautiful.

Walk far enough up Fifth and eventually you get to Central Park. Can’t miss it. We wandered in and found a seat to sit on. Four blokes were playing beach volleyball on a fake beach, and we just watched and chilled out a bit. Then along Central Park South to Columbus Circle and back down to the hotel to meet up with Min and Helen.

When we got back to the hotel and reclaimed our luggage, I changed into posh shoes for the flight (didn’t want to scupper our chances of getting upgraded!), and we caught a taxi out to Kennedy. We were told that as it was nearly rush hour, it would take us about two hours. It didn’t, it took one, which is strange because I’m sure the journey inwards only too ten minutes?

I don’t really remember seeing Queens on the way in, although maybe that’s because I wasn’t really paying so much attention. It reminded me of Willesden. But much bigger. It’s as if Willesden is going on for miles and miles and miles? But that’s unfair because any conurbation along a major arterial road is going to look like shit.

Unlike at Heathrow, we got our upgrades as soon as we checked in, to Upper Class no less. Nice.

We went then into the Virgin Clubhouse for some food, (I had steak. It was like eating shoe leather), and the opportunity to blog briefly again, for free. The sun set as we ate and watched CNN’s coverage of Arnie’s victory in California.

We went then through customs, and yours truly got to do the shoe thing. I’m really not sure what they were expecting me to have hidden in my heels, possibly an Uzi. Certainly high explosives aren’t my style – they leave such an unpleasant and lingering odour, don’t you think?

My last ten bucks I managed to spend in the duty free on a small bottle of JD. Well, you have to really, don’t you?

Then it was on to the plane, and up the stairs to Upper Class. It’s is very, very strange to go up stairs on a plane. Very bizarre.

No bar up there though, just these rather nice seats that recline quite a bit. Of course, when the new flat beds come in, they’ll be much, much nicer. They had a mock up of them in the Clubhouse, and they’re quite marvellous. I’d love to fly with one of those beds to kip in.

This particular plane had the new entertainment system, which was good because you can start your films when you want to, rather than when the system tells you to. Although it was dark by the time we took off and I could have slept, I discovered a Japanese film available called Cowboy Bebop. V mentioned the TV series to me just last week, so I couldn’t resist, no matter how tired I was. It was well worth the sacrifice though – a really good film. I’d love to see it again, though, when I’m a bit more awake and able to really pay attention.

Once the film was done, I settled down and got a little sleep. I was surprised how solidly I did sleep, though. I think that several days of droning air-con had prepared me for the constant drone of the engines. Trouble was, no time at all seemed to pass before the stewardesses were coming round with breakfast.

* ** *** ** *

So, there we are. My trip to New York in the kind of detail that you really didn’t need. I don’t know why I’ve decided to blog this event to this extent. Maybe it’s because I don’t get to go on holiday very often – that was my first for, ooh, 14 years. But fifty seven photos is a bit excessive, even for me. That said, it is only a sixth of the photos I took – I spared you many of the anonymous buildings, so be thankful.

Anyway, if anyone in NY wants to give me a job, with Manhattan apartment, just let me know.

A visitor October 22, 2003 at 1:31 am

Hey, I went to Midtown Comics too, when I was in New York! But did you go to the sex toys shop down the street? 😉

I'm glad you had a good time in NYC… I was hoping you would. Drop me a line some time, darling. 🙂

Natalie Jane []

Suw October 22, 2003 at 10:37 am

Hey Natalie! Yeah, I know I owe you an email. I'll reply soonest. Take care, specially in light of the news.

A visitor October 29, 2003 at 9:16 pm

Suw, ma lluniau ti'n ffantastic! Dwinna'n nyt am bensaerniaeth hefyd. Bob lle dwi'n mynd dwi'n tynnu llunia'r adeiladau so dwi'n deall be ti'n ddeud am y slide show bore feeling!

Fues i yn NY pan o'n i'n 11 ond mae'r atgofion braidd yn hazy a faswn i'n lyfio mynd yno eto. Mae'r stwff art deco yna yn anghygoel. A hefyd y sdwff gothic fel ti'n deud, fath ty y Royal Tenenbaums a'r adeilad yn Rosemary's Baby. Oedd Syndey yn ddigon ffantastic i fi efo'i adeiladau gwyn a glas golau yn Bondi efo leins crisp parallel yn mynd rown yr adeiladau ag yn cyrfio'n berffaith. Mmm. Sori…!

Adeiladau ac anialwch, rheiny ydi'n hoff bethau i dynnu llun, ella llynnoedd hefyd. Dwi dal heb gael camera digidol so dwi'n methu rhoi rhai ar Rwdls Nwdls.

Gei di ddod i Eddie Izzard yn Gaerdydd efo fi os nei di ffitio yn fy nghot law hir!

Cowboy Bebop: methu witsiad i gael o ar dvd, neu os ti'n cael o cyn fi…gai fenthyg o?

Hwyl, diolch am yr hanas.


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