Socks. I needed to buy some socks. I suffer from what could quite possibly be the worst smelling feet in the world when I’ve been on my feet all day, and saying as I didn’t want to subject the lady from the hotel laundry service to such a horrifying ordeal, I was just throwing day old socks away as opposed to getting them washed. Yes, our hotel actually had a (quite expensive) laundry service, possibly to make up for the lack of a café/restaurant, or a bar, or room service etc. We had been planning to buy some clothes while here, (supposedly quite a lot cheaper than in the UK), so I could now kill two birds with one stone.
But first, one attraction we had our eye on wasn’t on your usual tourist itinerary, the World War 11 US aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a sea-air-space museum. We went off the beaten track a bit to get across to it, seeing a little bit of NYC everyday life on the way. No souvenir shops to be had walking all the way along W46th Street, just a few guys working on a car in a garage, a couple of local stores and a postman on his beat. I’m a postman myself so I stopped to have a chat with him, compare notes on how things get done in the US as apposed to the UK. Very interesting (I won’t bore you with all the details!).
We finally reached the Intrepid, which sits at pier 86, W46th Street, (on the Hudson River), and were really looking forward to having a look around it. Our hopes were blown out of the water though (pardon the pun!) when we discovered it was closed to the public one day of the week, today! The opening times might well have changed by now, but for us, no ship ahoy.
Instead we headed back all the way along 46th Street to have a look around midtown. I had made a phone call earlier in the year and set up a tour of the post office, but we now had a bit of time to kill before we had to be there.
Once back through Times Square it`s only a few blocks to the vast expanse of the Rockefeller Center, which covers an area of eleven acres between 49th - 52nd Streets and 5th - 7th Avenues. I was only really interested in getting photos of a couple of things around here. First, the famous Radio City Music Hall, which has been perfectly restored in all it`s art deco grandeur. It looks as good today as it would have back in it`s hey-day.
Next up was the sunken plaza in the middle of the center. This is a restaurant in the summer but gets transformed into the famous ice-skating rink in winter, which looks even more spectacular when the equally famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree sits above it. Surrounding this sub-ground area are the `Flags Of All Nations`, a bit like what they have at the United Nations building at 1st and 46th Street.
The towering General Electric Building is the `Flagship` of the center, which includes the NBC studios and television network headquarters on the 70th floor. The `Today Show` broadcasts daily from the glass-enclosed street level studio near the ice rink.
This is where many locals head to in the hope of seeing themselves on television. Damn. I went and left my giant `Hello Mam` home made placard in the hotel. If you have a few dollars in your pocket you`ll never go hungry around here. I lost count of the number of restaurants/cafes we walked past.
Having said that, there are also plenty of hotdog stands dotted around, and I hated having to walk past one without parting with a dollar for a very tasty snack. I’m sure the vendors used to rub their hands with glee when they saw me coming.
It was now time to head for our tour of the post office. We were met there by a lady who introduced herself as our personal tour guide. `Funny name that`, I thought to myself, and after waiting a little while for other people to turn up for the tour, she gave up on them and set off with only me and Malc in tow. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us into the building I really wanted a look at (the sorting office floor, where postmen prepare their walks), and we had to make do with a tour of the mail processing centre instead. Although interesting enough, this wasn’t what I was wanting to see.
We have mail centres in the UK doing the same job. I was more interested in seeing the working area of the postmen before they set off on their beats, to compare their set-up to where I work. Even having an official with us (acting as tour guide) didn’t help. The security was so tight they didn’t want me and Malc poking our noses around in there. They sent us on our way with a carrier bag each full of post office information. I was only surprised they didn’t give us a couple of lollipops to suck on as well.
We then walked a couple of blocks to have a look at Madison Square Garden. What a fantastic arena! Built in 1968, `the Garden` stands on the site of the former Pennsylvania Station. Its 20,000 seats are the home ground of the famous New York Knickerbockers (the Knicks), basketball, and New York Rangers hockey teams. Mind you, it doesn’t stop there. You can also see rock concerts, championship tennis, boxing, outrageously staged wrestling, antique shows, dog shows and more! There is also a 5,600 seat theatre. So me and Malc wandered in to have a look.
We were just making our way up a ramp inside when we heard a voice behind us. “You guys going somewhere?” We turned to see a security guard heading towards us.
“Just having a look around mate.”
“You got tickets?”
“Didn’t know we needed one.”
“There’s a game on, you gotta have tickets to get in.”
“Oh. Cant we just have a look around?”
“Not tonight you cant. I’ll show you out.”
“Very kind of you, I’m sure.”
I have to say, I much prefer St. James` Park, Newcastle! We went for another wander after being escorted outside, this time up to 42nd Street to have a look at Grand Central Station (or Grand Central Terminal to give it its proper title).
What a fantastic railway station! Opened in 1913, up to half a million people pass through the terminal each day. I didn’t know where to look first. You could spend all day looking around in here. I have a black and white picture on the wall at home (one of many of New York!) of the Terminal taken in 1930 featuring sun rays streaming through the giant windows. It felt great to finally stand in front of them and look for myself. The three massive arched windows each measure 75 feet (23 m) high. The vaulted ceiling features a zodiac design containing over 2,500 stars with lights pinpointing the major constellations (the design is actually said to be a `Gods eye` image of the sky, the work of French artist Paul Helleu).
You also can’t miss the two Grand Staircases, double flights of marble steps styled after the staircase in the Paris Opera House. And the big gold four faced clock that tops the travel information booth on the main concourse. Or the restaurants and food court, including the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar. Like I said what a fantastic railway station!
We did our bit of clothes shopping straight after leaving the station (and also got some new socks!), and after the disappointments of Intrepid, the post office and the Garden, we decided to cheer ourselves up with a few beers. What a big difference in the US to the UK for having a night out. In the UK you find a bar on virtually every street corner (or so it seems!), but in the US you var-nigh have to get a cab from one bar to the next.
We had heard that there were more bars in the lower east side in the city, so after a quick shower and change of clothes, we had a couple of drinks in the bar near the hotel before jumping on a tube down to Grand Street and headed across from there. After a short while we asked some people if we were in the `lower east side` area. We were, and were pointed in the direction of the nearest bar.
Here was another New York first, two bars within a few feet of each other! I had developed a taste for a local drink over the week, Brooklyn Lager, mmm! Malc`s eyes lit up when he spotted a local drink of our own here in NYC. Newcastle Brown Ale, a favourite in the North East of England.
We had been in the bar a little while when I heard a familiar accent at the other end of the bar. He turned out to be a fellow Geordie who was making his way all around South and North America. While being over the moon to be able to talk to someone who understood him (strong accent), he was even happier when I offered him some English cigarettes (Regal, another NE England favourite!).
We all had a good laugh and drink together and before we knew it, it was 2am. Me and Malc had trailed over here to sample a few different bars and ended up in the same one all night! There was nowhere to get anything to eat on the way back to the subway but while standing on the platform I spotted a chocolate machine on the wall. That would have to do for now. I had just bought a dairy crunch bar when the train pulled in. Apart from me and Malc, there were only two other people in the car, sitting together right in the middle. I thought it best to break the ice. “Hello lads, you ok, mind if we sit here?” (Right next to them). “Yeah man, sure.” One of them was really big, broad, the other was a lot smaller, dwarfed by his pal. It was the big lad that was talking.
I asked where they were heading. “Home man, Bronx.” “Long way mate, want some dairy crunch?” “No, you ok.” “Go on, there’s plenty.” “No man.” I waited a few seconds. “Last chance, sure you don’t want any?” “Go on then.” We ended up talking all the way to our stop (which we weren’t sure of in our state). But our new friend kept us right. His pal never said a word the whole time we were on the train.
When we were back on the street Malc was shaking his head laughing to himself. “I think we just got away with it there” he said. “Eh?” “I don’t think two lads heading to the Bronx at 2.30 in the morning are used to two drunken idiots forcing dairy crunch on them.” “Well he seemed happy enough.” “Aye Steve, but his mate didn’t.” Good point. Still, it’s nice to be nice eh?!