Sunday, 18 April 2010

New York day 3

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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.

After having a late night, we had a bit of a lie-in before taking the subway to the edge of Central Park. We had what might be the most unhealthy breakfast of our time in New York - an ice-cream from Coldstone, which had been recommended to us by a friend.

I had a number of landmarks in Central Park which I wanted to see, and we started off by looking for Belvedere Castle. We had planned to do quite a lot on our Central Park day and, in retrospect, I think we planned too much. Though we weren't helped by my horrendous sense of direction - Central Park is not well mapped, and we got lost in the aptly named Ramble when looking for the Castle. When I look back on it now, I feel that getting lost in Central Park is an essential New York rite of passage. And on the plus side, we did end up going through the Shakespeare Garden, which we might otherwise have missed.

Belvedere Castle is a 19th century folly that provides a good view over Central Park, and also doubles as a weather station. When local news reports give the temperature in Central Park, this will have come from the monitoring station in the castle. We also saw Bow Bridge, but unfortunately missed the Alice in Wonderland statue that I had also wanted to see.

Mark and I both had things that we wanted to see in Central Park. Mark's was the John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields. This seemed to be one of the main tourist spots of the park, with seemingly constant tours going past and people jostling to have their photo taken by the Imagine mosaic. My priority was to see the Bethesda Fountain of Tony Kushner "Angels in America" fame. I was especially conscious of the connection to "Angels in America" on our trip, as the Walter Kerr Theatre in which we saw "A Little Night Music" was the venue for the premier of Kushner's plays. I was a little disappointed to find that the fountain was dry, but it is still an impressive statue with a picturesque backdrop of one of Central Park's expanses of water.

After some time in Central Park, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for some lunch and culture. Our visit to the Museum was very short, and I wish we had spent more time there. I had mainly wanted to see Seurat's study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (another Sondheim connection), and I had also wanted to see Edward Seichen's photo of the Flatiron (maybe my favourite NY building). Our guide book said it was at that museum, but it turns out that it was not on display (and we were told by someone who works there that the collection it is from has not been displayed for a while).

We were going to go down to the zoo, but we ran out of time. Instead we went to the Flatiron itself, and then went back to the hotel for a quick rest before going out again. At the time we were in New York, Antony Gormley's statues were on display and we saw one near the Flatiron.

We went to the Empire State Building that evening. This was one of the more frustrating experiences of our time in New York. The queues were huge and slow moving, and by the time we got to the top it was completely dark. I tried to spot the Flatiron, but in complete darkness it is very hard to distinguish one New York landmark from another (with the notable exception of the distinctive apex of the Chrysler Building). In retrospect from my experience at the Rockefeller Centre, the best time to get views of New York is sunset - to see the transition from daylight, through dusk, to the electrical extravagance of the lights of New York at night. A friend who has been up the Empire State has also recommended early morning (apparently the queues are shorter at this time). Our hotel offered the chance to buy VIP style tickets for the Empire State Building that allow you to skip the queues, and I did wish that we had taken the express route.

We then went for what turned out to be a longer walk than I expected to the Empire Diner, which I had heard about in my guide book. I looked to see if the Empire Diner had a website so that I could post a link to show you what it is like - and found that it was due to close (and probably has closed by now). Mark loves art deco style, so I thought he would like the diner (I was right). I had a milkshake as well as food there - I felt like when you are in an old-fashioned American diner, you really should have a milkshake. We recently watched Woody Allen's "Manhattan," and it was a thrill to see the outside of the Empire Diner in one of the early shots of the film. For me, that was probably the best bit of the film, and shows what an iconic New York landmark the Empire Diner was.

We walked back to the hotel. I made the mistake of suggesting we walked around a different way to see a bit of New York we hadn't seen before. This was a bad idea. The new bit of New York that we saw was very industrial, run-down and a bit dodgy with lots of lorry bays - although it did mean we saw some old fashioned looking tenement buildings with metal fire escapes outside. I did also see the outside of the Chelsea Hotel, though - this was exciting for me, as a number of writers I admire have stayed there (Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas...).

It was a strange and exciting feeling to end our last full day in New York, walking along a street that Tennessee Williams had walked.

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