22 April 2011

What we did in New York

After the previous blog post, in which I wrote about our flights to and from New York, some people have asked what did we do whilst there. So this time I will try to show you what we did. It is possible that some of the days have things in the wrong order, or the wrong activity on the wrong day, but no matter the detail!

We arrived at JFK just after noon local time, which according to our body clocks was closer to 8pm, so we took a taxi to the apartment. We could have done Airtrain/subway, but we had plenty of luggage and a small tired boy to transport, who actually fell asleep in the cab. It was after his regular bedtime after all. Added to that Tam was still not feeling well from the flight. This would turn out to be our only yellow cab ride in the city. We had a talkative driver, originally from Afghanistan, who'd been in the USA since the Russian invasion. He had never been back, but had often visited India, where he'd got a love of cricket from. As mentioned before, all the yellow taxis are now hybrids, so in the heavy traffic the engine cuts out and the electric motor takes over. Also, all taxis accept credit cards (the cost of some fares, this is needed!) and ours also had an on-board tv, that you could watch for $5, or a Google map interface showing your current location.

We arrived at the apartment to find John, the owner, was inside - he said he would meet us there, but with noone around we waited outside for a few minutes until he came out of the door.
This is the apartment:
Also here:
My review is posted.
After John had explained the subway and bus maps, shown us the apartment, he took me on a quick tour of the local area (just the block really, as I needed to get back to put Matthew to bed). There was a grocery store, some delis, cafes, takeaways, a Dunkin Donuts, a KFC and a laundrette, as well as the subway all within 200m. We actually only ended up using the subway and the grocery store. Anyway, we put Matthew to bed and Tam too turned in. I went to the grocery store to stock up. For being such a small shop (approx 1/2 the size of the Dereham Rd Co-op) they certainly had stock in the place! Products were jammed in. Also of note was that most things seemed more expensive than at home, though not by much (though it was a convenience store. I'm sure Walmart would be cheaper), and that most things came in very large packets or sizes. And, the gluten free selection was very impressive for in effect a convenience store. Anyway, I got some GF pasta, milk, tea bags, bacon, eggs, breakfast cereal (not even the most brightly coloured one!), fruit, ham, cheese, and plenty of orange juice. The next morning, Tam was still not feeling great, so I took Matthew to another store I'd read about as having a very good gluten free selection: Trader Joe's, which was in downtown Brooklyn. I carried his pushchair up and down the subway stairs, the first of many times, and bought Tam and I a weekly subway (and bus) pass, at $29 each - only a little more than the London system's one day travelcard. We took the subway and found Trader Joe's, which seemed more of an upmarket, "organic" type of shop. With some more purchases, we were ready to head back to the apartment. It seems that the company is actually owned by the German group who also own Aldi - from one extreme to the other! Also, there was a sign saying that somewhere in the store was hidden a soft toy pizza - if any children found it, they could claim a small prize. Very innovative.

We returned to the apartment, had lunch (by this time Tam had woken) and we all headed into Manhattan. This was Tam's first time in New York, first time in the USA and first time anywhere with a major (3+ hours) time difference. Anyway, we took the subway to Times Square, and on exiting, were greeted with the typical scene - hoards of people, massive skyscrapers, yellow taxis, tour busses, street food hawkers, neons signs - everything typical. She was enthralled! We spent some time there taking photos, before heading towards Bryant Park and the Central Library. Apparently this was in some women's film recently. We had a look inside, before heading up 5th Ave, stopping in Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble for a drink. (B&N is one of the few places with free wifi in the city). Their GF selection was very poor compared to the UK, with no signage apart from the calorie content of the cakes, and they charged nearly $4 for a cup of soy milk for Matty. After this, we continued up 5th Ave to Central Park, along the edge of the park to Columbus Circle and the subway back to the apartment. Most of our evenings consisted of and early self-cooked dinner with Matty, putting him to bed and a little TV until we too retired for the night.

Monday morning, we slept in late, not leaving until lunchtime. This time we took the bus from the next street, which went to downtown Brooklyn near Brooklyn Bridge. We then walked over the bridge, admiring the views of the East River, Manhattan, and the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It seemed that there were hundreds of padlocks attached to the bridge, some with names or initials and dates scratched into them. Once we arrived in Manhattan, we made our way to a specialist bakery in the Lower East Side near Chinatown, where we spent a fortune on gluten free cupcakes and doughnuts - the cupcakes were ok, but the doughnuts were worth every cent, I am reliably informed! (Babycakes, listed here: http://www.coeliaclist.co.uk/world.html) We then went to a local park, the WG Seward Park, so Tam could sit and enjoy the confectioney and Matthew could play. Eventually it was getting late, so back on the subway to the apartment.

On Tuesday morning, Tam was still not so well, so Matthew and I took the subway into the Chelsea Market, which has several high-quality delis and cafes, to buy a gluten free sandwich from one of the delis there that I'd researched before. The market itself is more of an indoor mall, with just food shops - looks very nice, though quite expensive. On taking the sandwich back to Tam, Matthew needed a late morning sleep, so with both of them in bed I went into Brooklyn to the New York Transit Museum. I spend an interesting hour there looking at the displays and the old subway cars on the lower level, which is an actual disused subway station. After lunch at the apartment, we headed to lower Manhattan, to the World Trade Centre site. Tam was especially touched by the informative displays at Trinity Church. We then visited Century 21, the original in a chain of cheap department stores, before walking down Wall St to the Bowling Green (New York's first green public space, even if it is the size of a bowling green), Fraunces Tavern, and Battery Park. Matthew played here for a bit whilst Tam took pictures of the harbour - and an inquisitive squirrel climbed onto Matt's pushchair.

On Wednesday, I took Matthew for a play in the small playground opposite the apartment. The wind must have changed, as today there was lots of aerial traffic, I think heading into La Guardia airport, and each time a plane passed over Matt stopped and watched it :) Later on that day, we went to the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the dinosaur skeletons and where Ross from "Friends" works. On the way there we saw the Dakota building, outside which John Lennon was shot, and the garden inside Central Park created in his honour: Strawberry Fields. We bought Matthew some plastic dinosaurs to play with, and for dinner we ate out at a traditional American diner, one that I'd found that had a good GF selection, including GF burger buns. Of course we had to have burgers, and they were 12oz ones - aparently that's 3/4 of a pound! Matthew had a grilled chicken sandwich (also on GF bread). They were so big we had to take the leftovers back with us.

On Thursday, we headed to the posh part of the city, the Upper East Side, to see how the other half live. We saw the Guggenheim museum, but didn't think it fair to make Matthew endure that, So we went down to 59th St and the Roosvelt Island Aerial Tramway. Basically a cable car that crosses to an island in the river, it climbs quite high up on the way, to enable shipping to pass underneath. On returning to Manhattan, we let Matt free in the small park at the bottom of the tramway, but all he wanted to do was climb the stairs up to it again! Sorry Matt, but once is enough! We walked back to 5th Ave, through Bloomingdales (which resembled more of a shopping mall than a store), and I left Tam to go to Tiffany's and other shops, whilst I took Matt to the official Central Park playground. It was huge, with slides going into a big sand pit, which he loved but we ended up spending ages clearing his shoes of sand!

Our last day was Friday, and I had wanted to go on the Staten Island ferry, but Tam was worried about the swell and feeling seasick, so she stayed behind in the morning to clean and tidy the apartment, and to pack, whilst Matt and I went on the boat. We returned to the apartment via a bus over the Verrazano Narrows bridge, and subway. Whilst Matt had a sleep, I returned to Brooklyn to search for some gifts for people, notably peanut butter M&Ms that nowhere seemed to have a large bag of, only the small bag size. I eventually found some in a pharmacy! Anyway, after lunch we headed out to Greenwich Village, where the building seen in the Friends exterior pictures is located. Downstairs where Central Perk is supposed to be is actually a fancy, and expensive, restaurant. We took some pictures and looked around the Village - Tam said that this was the "nicest" residential area of Manhattan, after the posh Upper East Side and down-at-heal Lower East Side and Chinatown. We had thought about going up the Rockefeller Center at this point, but it was getting late and becoming gloomy, so we wouldn't have been able to see much anyway. So we headed back, going to bed early for our 5am taxi pickup the next morning, when we returned home.

There are some photos on my Facebook page.

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