Sunday, 18 April 2010

New York day 1

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

On our first full day in New York we got up early and went to the Rockefeller Center. I think that this might have been my favourite time in New York - when the city is less crowded, and your main street fellows are early rising businessmen and women with their Starbucks coffee cups for a caffeine hit.

New York will seem familiar to anyone who watches lots of films. I got a bit overexcited that early morning and took a photo of a random intersection just because an iconic yellow cab was going past. The streets really do have iron grids which you can imagine Marilyn Monroe standing above in a billowing white dress (and which demand a whole new skill set when walking in heels). The subways unsettlingly call to mind shoot-outs with the bad guys hiding behind slightly discoloured, grimy pillars. Or horror films with nasty little creatures skittering in the dark (after watching "Cloverfield" I really wasn't sure about going to New York - it always seems to be attacked by big, scary monsters in the movies).

Actually my subway horror movie of choice would be "Mimic." It is maybe not a cinematic masterpiece, but Jeremy Northam is damn fine.

In keeping with the many businessmen and women, we started the day with a Starbucks breakfast(raspberry coffee cake in honour of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and a dark cherry mocha which was pleasantly like drinking black forest gateaux). I'm still getting over the disappointment that Starbucks don't seem to do the dark cherry mocha in the UK.

Our first sightseeing experience was going to the top of the Rockefeller Centre. I quite liked the Rock and I did think that it had better views of NY than the Empire State (and I did have it pointed out to me before going that you can't take a photo of the Empire State Building from the Empire State Building!). If you are a romantic, then the morning we went the city was shrouded in softening mist - if you are a realist, then the city was obscured by smog. The Rockefeller Centre has a great view of Central Park, which gives you an idea of the expanse of real estate given over to greenery (it is apparently the same size as Monaco). Sadly, the view of one of New York's most loved buildings - the Chrysler - is partially obscured by the less attractive Metlife building when viewed from the Top of the Rock.

After exploring the Rockefeller Centre, we decided to go and pick up our theatre tickets (for "A Little Night Music") to make sure we could find the theatre - and they were also doing signings of the CD cast recording that day. To get there, we walked through Times Square. Times Square is a monument to consumerism and a nightmare of an electricity bill.

When we got to the theater, there were already people queueing for the signing. My husband was very understanding in losing 3 hours of precious sightseeing time in a queue. I have been a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim since I was a teenager (which, sadly, is now quite a long time ago). So when a friend, Alan, told me that Sondheim was doing a signing while we were in New York, it felt like an opportunity that I could not miss. There was a pleasant, chatty, camaraderie in our bit of the queue. I know the side of the Walter Kerr theatre quite well now - it has a kind of waterfall down the side of the building, which might be unfortunate if you had missed your chance for a toilet break before joining the queue.

I felt nervous. It wasn't exactly how I would have liked to have met Sondheim (I had a big spot on my cheek, I had spilt grape juice on my top - which luckily was purple, so it didn't show - and my comfortable boots had started to disintegrate). Rather than have to break in new boots while walking around New York, I had temporarily managed to fix my old ones by sewing them up and fixing it with glue. So I wasn't at my most socially poised (I'm never that socially poised anyway). They actually did the signing on the stage - so I can literally say with pride that I have been on stage on Broadway. And they had put down the red carpet treatment. I'm relieved to say that I didn't make an idiot of myself (which I worried about doing). The whole cast was there for the signing. I wished Sondheim a belated happy birthday, and he said thank you. I'm just glad that I said something to him that wasn't ridiculous, and that he said something back to me. I'd rather not say anything to someone I admire, than say something that might make them think that I am a fawning gimp. He won't remember me of course, but at least I didn't make an idiot of myself in front of someone that I admire a lot. Despite the glued shoes.

From there we had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square (I'm not entirely sure that it's not criminal to go from meeting Sondheim to the Hard Rock Cafe - but I felt that we should also do some cheesey American things). I actually wasn't feeling too hungry, so I ordered a starter size of nachos (which turned out to be huge - the only time in America that we really experienced the fabled massive portions of food).

We then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around various sights. We went to see the art deco grandeur of the Chrysler Building. This is my husband's favourite building, and I think he was suitably impressed by the rich golds and pinky-red marble of the lobby. We saw the extravagant concourse of Grand Central Station with its dance of bustling commuters, but didn't explore the passages below (only since returning have I heard of the acoustics of the whispering corners in the passages of the station). Helene Hanff describes Grand Central Station as being beloved by tourists for its grandeur, but hated by native New Yorkers for its complicated platforms. We also explored a very grand building that turned out to be New York's Public Library - a huge, overwhelming building.

Our last stop of that day was back to the Rock. We had a drink in the bar downstairs, from which you can view the skaters on the ice rink outside. I found myself longing to see a show-off skater fall over - and then felt very chastened and guilty when he stopped to help a wobbly young child who didn't seem very confident on the ice.

I would recommend the day and night ticket at the Rockefeller Centre, which allows you to go up twice in one day. We used our second time to get some night photos. We actually went up to the top while it was still light, and waited for the sun to set. I'm not a great photographer, but the photos that I took at sunset on this day were probably my favourite of the trip. It was a great way to end the day.


  1. Ah! Sounds amazing. I'd love to go one day. I went to Toronto a few years back though and loved it there. I always imagine Toronto to be to New York what Manchester is to London. Of course, I'm quite possibly wrong about that.

  2. I'd certainly recommend it, Tim! It was less my choice of holiday than Mark's, but I was won over by New York. I'd certainly go back (although I have others places on my wish list first!)