Friday, October 15, 2010

USA Trip 2010 - New York City [Part 2]

I was immediately impressed with the hotel we stayed at, The Residence Inn Manhattan. The staff at reception were very friendly and we were checked-in in no time at all but best of all we got bumped up to a deluxe room with a view of the Empire State Building. I had e-mailed the manager a few months previously about this and was told there was an extra charge for this room. I declined on the basis we could spend that extra $25 a night elsewhere. Anyway, she said she would keep the request on file and could have the room for free if it was unoccupied when we arrived. The room was simply awesome. We had expected to get a tiny room in NY because that is what most people had told us to expect. Well the room we got had it's own little kitchenette, large bathroom, queen size bed and a sofa. Plus that excellent view that you can see here and here. As it was the evening already and raining heavily we got ready quickly and went to find something to eat. We ended up in Arno Ristorante just around the corner. It wasn't one of the better meals on the trip, a massive bowl of soup to start and a pasta dish with a distinct taste of cheese. We weren't actually that hungry anyway, probably more tired than anything. On a side note I did get a bit of a Goodfella's vibe off one of the waiters which made things more interesting.

The breakfast was not great but I was expecting that. I hadn't really enjoyed the breakfast food on our last US trip and this one was to be no exception. I just find that the food is either too sweet or stodgy for the morning time. After breakfast we walked up 6th Avenue to the Rockefeller Plaza to go to the Nintendo World Store. It was a shop that we had been excited to see and we weren't disappointed. It is probably more of a Nintendo store than museum but don't let that put you off. They had a great selection of Nintendo plushies but not the Mario Mushroom I wanted. I ended up buying a Yoshi plushy and my wife got one of Link. Thinking back on it now I should have gotten the cool mug that I saw there as well. Seeing some of the classic Nintendo handhelds and game & watch machines brought back some memories. Pretty much the rest of the day was spent getting to know the area we were staying in. I had taken my time deciding on our hotel so I managed to get one with a great location on 6th Avenue, only two blocks from Times Square. We wandered around the shops in Times Square (I picked up some nice stuff in American Eagle) and took my first few photos of the holiday. The first of many.

View from 'The Top of The Ro
The next day we went back to the Rockefeller Plaza to go to 'The Top of the Rock'. When deciding where to go to get the best view of NY you really only have two choices - The Empire State Building or the Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Center. We chose the latter and were not disappointed. The views of NY are amazing, especially the way you can see Central Park spread out before you. As an added bonus you also get to see The Empire State Building as part of the cityscape. We spent a good while up there taking plenty of photos and enjoying the glorious weather. That afternoon we were again back at Rockefeller Plaza to go on the NBC Studio Tour. It was quite an enjoyable tour as we got to see some good behind the scenes areas plus the tour guide was funny and informative. We got to sit in the Saturday Night Live studio and hear about the crazy amount of work that goes into producing a single show. I'd say that anyone who has an interest in US television would get a lot out of the tour but I would like to have seen more stages from shows that I'm familiar with.

The most trouble we had in our time in NY was finding a nice place to have dinner. The meals we had on our first and second nights hadn't been much to write home about so I went to the hotel concierge to get a recommendation for a good stakehouse. She recommended Benjamin Stakehouse only a few blocks away. I was a little nervous when she said that the dress code was smart casual as I had nothing but jeans in my case. When we got to the restaurant and were show to our seats we did feel a little out of place but we got over that pretty quickly as the staff were very friendly. I got a big steak with a side of onions and mash while my wife got the seabass. We both agree it was easily one of the nicest meals we've ever eaten. It may have been a little pricey, but that wouldn't stop us going back if we ever return to NY. 

Shopping is obviously one of the major attractions of NY but it was pretty low down on the list of priorities for us. We did plan on doing some but not to the extreme that some people do and had ruled out any trips to places like Woodbury Common. Neither of us actually ended up buying much in NY. It was a combination of not seeing anything nice and the throngs of people milling around every shop making it desparately uncomfortable. There was one item though that I was intent on buying, the iPad. After we took a stroll through the 'Pond' area of Central Park we went to the Apple Store at the top of 5th Avenue. Keeping up a tradition started on our last US trip we took a photo of ourselves outside of the store, a magnificient glass cube structure. The store itself an underground Mecca for Apple fanboys (like myself) was amazing. So much cool stuff in one room. Pity that that one room was so busy, it was iPad fever at its height. I was told that they didn't have any in stock and I'd be better off ringing other stores before wasting my time travelling to them. So I rang the other three Apple stores in the area each day that we remained in NY but had no luck in sourcing an iPad. Even Best Buy, an authorised reseller had no stock. I hoped to have better luck when we got to Boston. 

Sphere Within A Sphere
The next day of our stay in NY was probably the most enjoyable we had there. We hoped on the tourist bus at Times Square and travelled down to Greenwich Village. To go from an area like Times Square and other built up areas of NY and appear in Greenwich Village is like some sort of magic trick. Everywhere else appears to be populated by skyscrapers blocking out the sun all in neat little rows on the grid system and then suddenly your transported to a quaint little village that wouldn't look out of place somewhere in Europe. We idled down Bleecker Street popping into the clothes and music stores, keeping an eye out for somewhere nice for lunch. It is true that Greenwich Village has a different pace to it than the rest of the city and we spent a while just wandering around, enjoying the break from the hustle and bustle. After a tasty lunch we got back on the bus to take in more sites like the UN Building. As we passed the building the tour guide started to talk about one of the sculptures in front of the UN, one that I recognised immediately. It was a replica of a sculpture that I pass everyday on my walk through the grounds of Trinity College in Dublin. The guide told us that the 'Sphere within a Sphere' represents a war-torn Earth and that the sphere will be filled in when world peace is achieved. However, according to the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro the inner ball represents Earth while the outer ball represents religion. This is to show that religion is bigger than the Earth. Shame. I much preferred our tour guides interpretation. We have done the hop-on, hop-off bus tours in many cities across the world and we usually really enjoy them. We were left disappointed by the one in NY. It wasn't so much to do with the stops, there is plenty to see there but more to do with the traffic. Crawling through the city streets, being stopped by red lights at every junction isn't exactly fun. We probably would have fit more into our day had we travelled on the subway.

That night, our last in NY we went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. It wasn't our first choice but the time suited us and the ticket price was reasonable. When we got there the theatre was packed and there must have been some sort of organised group there because there was a huge number of teenagers. On the way in my wife got suckered into buying a souvenir guide. I'm pretty sure it hasn't been taken out of the bag since it was bought. We took our seats up in the Gods, with a birds eye view of the stage. As we settle in we noticed this guy running back and forth looking all flustered. He made his way over to us and explained that he had two spare tickets that he had been unable to sell. He asked us if we would like to sit at the front and we said yes, assuming that he meant the front of the section we were currently in. We then started to follow him down flight after flight of steps and I began to wonder if we'd be scammed. We weren't. We ended up about seven rows from the very front of the stage with one of the best views in the house. The guy (whose name I can't remember) and his girlfriend had just moved to NY that day and felt that the two seats should not sit empty when they could be enjoyed by another couple. The show itself was very enjoyable. I have seen the Disney film many years ago and some of the songs were familiar but I had forgotten most of the story. The performances were uniformly good but the thing that impressed me most was the set. The main set was a four storey house and it would be raised or lowered depending on where the action was taking place. Very impressive to see.

So that was four nights in NY. We did enjoy our time there but we were glad to be leaving. As cities go it is very impressive but it didn't have the charm of a somewhere like San Francisco. We hoped to find that charm in Boston.

Part One | Part Three

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