Miracle on 34th Street

In New York, shopping, Travel on October 15, 2009 at 5:07 pm

I am recently returned from the Big Apple, and – hold the front page – I have money left over. Not a lot, as Paul Daniels might say, but a whole $50 that I refrained from spending. My last jaunts across the pond have left my bank account in a post-holocaust wasteland state, and I had expected similar results this time, but due to a combination of massive self restraint and great company with an eye for culture rather than jewellery and shoes, I enjoyed a more experiential visit. As opposed to pounding SoHo, Fifth Avenue and 34th Street for five solid days, pausing only to down cocktails, I did stuff.

For the first time, I stayed in the heaving neon masterpiece that is Times Square – nothing like it for getting a cricked neck and having adverts emblazoned on the insides of your eyelids when you close your eyes. For the first 24 hours this was terribly exciting, gazing open-mouthed at the street entertainers, watching people making their way to Broadway shows dressed in their best, and laughing off the attentions of hustlers. But after that initial period, not so funny, and really just quite annoying.

Times Square - can't miss it

Times Square - can't miss it

On my last visit, I discovered the Top of the Rock, and since I was visiting with an NYC Newbie, I knew it was the best place to go to guarantee open-mouthed incredulity. And sure enough, when faced with that familiar skyline, the lush green jungle of Central Park, nestled amongst a sprawling metropolis, and the towering Empire State Building, said newbie was satisfyingly awe-struck.

Not a bad view from your hotel window, eh? I jest, obviously.

Not a bad view from your hotel window, eh? I jest, obviously.

Whaddaya know, when we finally emerged from the teetering heights of the Rockefeller Centre (much to my chagrin, the Rainbow Room is closed, scuppering my plans to drink a Manhattan while watching the sun set over Manhattan, see what I did there?) we ended up on Fifth Avenue. What are the odds? Ambling past Tiffany, Saks, all the shiny facades that I have become so fond of (Yes, okay, I didn’t just amble past. I went in, and tried stuff on, but I didn’t buy anything) everything felt so fresh and exciting. There’s something about the size, scale and pace of NYC that makes you feel like anything is possible.

Anyway, I’m trying to demonstrate what a grown up I’ve become, wait till I tell you. In the past, I’d have grabbed a hotdog from a street vendor and gone out dancing. Not this time. Although I did have one or two warm up bellinis before we headed to the beautiful and romantic Grand Central Terminal. Can a railway station be romantic? Probably not New Street or Snow Hill, but GCT is in a class of its own. A cerulian blue ceiling decorated with delicate golden zodiac symbols arcs over the heaving throngs, and the ubiquitous giant clock.

Grand Central Terminal. Not too shabby.

Grand Central Terminal. Not too shabby.

But, rather than nasal and crackling announcements and fast-food outlets awash with irritable commuters and hoodie-clad passengers, GCT hosts its own market, heaving with exotic produce, and some pretty snazzy eateries. Michael Jordan’s steakhouse is amongst them, but we ate at Charlie Palmer’s Mezzura, where we enjoyed some pretty speedy service (maybe a little too speedy, but perhaps they sensed that the jet-lag was fast advancing upon us) and a great three-course meal with wine for a fixed $44pp price.

Hot on the experience trail, we enjoyed something a bit special to mark Adam’s first morning in NYC. NOT Breakfast At Tiffany’s – talk about letting the side down – but breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria. The beautiful art deco masterpiece facing Park Avenue is one of the grandest hotels in the world, and arguably one of the most famous. We dressed to the nines to enjoy eggs benedict in the Peracock Alley restaurant and while I had entertained ideas of pretending to be British Aristocracy, my general clumsiness and myriad bruises put paid to that. As you would expect, service was deferential and first class, the eggs perfect, the orange juice $9 a glass…

Peacock Alley at the Wadorf Astoria. Probably the most expensive orange juice in the world? Probably not, that's likely to be at the Cafe de Paris in Monaco

Peacock Alley at the Wadorf Astoria. Probably the most expensive orange juice in the world? Probably not, that's likely to be at the Cafe de Paris in Monaco

Much schlepping to be done to work off those eggs – we took in FAO Schwarz, resisting the urge to knock the children off the giant piano and bash out a bit of Razorlight, and admiring lifesize lego structures of Chewbacca, Batman and Harry, Hermione and Ron, and we traipsed all the way to 34th Street to Macy’s, where I got lost. In case you’re wondering, the miracle is that I didn’t spend anything on 34th Street. For all my raving about how beautiful the Chrysler Building is, I’d never actually set foot in it, and I can now advise that the ceiling is painted with a mural of the building itself – painted on canvas and stuck up there, apparently.

On Friday night, after a bit of an emotional reunion with my best friend Lou and a very pretty dinner, we made a midnight visit to the world famous Carnegie Deli for a slice of cheesecake. What arrived was roughly the size of a seal. How people can eat anything that size escapes me, I have seen smaller babies. Nevertheless, I can see why the deli is world famous, charging the same price as a Waldorf orange juice for a slice of cake that will feed a family of four.

When it rains in NYC, people in the street start charging $20 for umbrellas. I’d forgotten mine but hoped we’d strike it lucky. We were lucky to a point – we got to see New York’s most famous landmark while the weather was fine, before experiencing the tidal wave of city rain that washes over the city within a couple of hours. We caught the ferry at Battersea Park to visit that famous green statue – I’m not posting a picture, you know who I mean, and marvelled at her beauty and the generosity of the French, before carrying on to Ellis Island to see evidence of Amerca’s appeal to migrants. After a couple of hours envisaging the refurbished immigration centre in its original state, crammed with people seeking a better life, we could envisage no longer and had to brave the torrential rain that was sheeting down.

When we could ignore it no longer, we paddled to the mainland (from the ferry, in case you’re wondering, the rain was that heavy) and took refuge beneath hand dryers and napkins in a well-appointed TGIs until the rain stopped. A brief stop at the Ground Zero site to see how the WTC tribute was coming along, and then we steeled ourselves for a visit to Hell On Earth, the bargain department store Century 21, which is a cross between TK Maxx and Dante’s Inferno, but capable of rendering some fantastic steals if you have the stomach and the elbows for it.

I’d never been to Cafe Wha? before. Apparently Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan have; and many other big names in comedy and music, who have pitched up and made surprise appearances. We were knocked out by the enthusiasm, stamina and talent of the fantastic Cafe Wha? band, who covered off every genre imaginable over a five hour set – there is no way anyone could fail to have a great time, and it’ll  be high up on my list of must visits whenever I go back.

So, this is where going away with a movie buff gets tricky. I am as guilty as the next person of expecting things to appear exactly as they do in the movies. A dazzlingly sunny day was spent exploring more Manhattan streets to see the Flat Iron Building and enjoying Sunday Brunch at Dock’s Oyster Bar, before heading to Central Park to soak up some sun and relax. I thought. But what we were actually doing, it seems, was looking for the building where Dana Barrett, as played by Sigourney Weaver, lived in Ghostbusters. And it’s DAMN hard to find, because the one we passed – 55 Central Park West, if you’re wondering, as spotted and accentuated by my good self – is the correct building but had magically been extended and enhanced by those good movie bods, so that it didn’t look right, and we walked much further than necessary. Here it is, in case you’re interested:

The spooky building where Dana lived in Ghostbusters, apparently.

The spooky building where Dana lived in Ghostbusters, apparently.

We did chill out in the park – always a wonder to me that you can feel so secluded, sheltered and peaceful despite being able to see the yellow cabs through the trees and see the skyscrapers soaring beyond. And then we headed to the super stylish Hudson hotel for the BEST apple martinis in the world before hitting Broadway. You’ve GOT to, it’s the law.

We saw the Lion King – way better than the cartoon, and every bit as fabulous as I’d heard and read. Emerging into the bright lights of Times Square, we jumped in a cab to scramble to the top of the Empire State Building. Personally, I prefer the Top of the Rock, but I decided that an NY Newbie deserved to make their own mind up and dutifully hit the 86th floor, and the 102nd floor to look out over the illuminated city. Man, it was cold.

Look how pretty.

Look how pretty.

Now, I don’t know where the time went, but it was our last day before we knew it – give me a week next time… so much we didn’t do. We’d said from the start that we wanted to visit the Museum of Natural History, and so we did. Movie editors everywhere…I hold you responsible for this. Don’t get me wrong, the museum is amazing, and the exhibits are outstanding, but Rex, the tail-chasing dinosaur who terrorises Ben Stiller? Nowhere to be seen. And sadly, so many of the other exhibits we’d been expecting to see weren’t there either. Happily, DumDum was…phew.

You wouldn't think you could miss him, would you?

You wouldn't think you could miss him, would you?

And then it was time to go home, and I feel blue. Next time, I am going in the winter, and I’m going ice skating, to a football game, and I’m going to do some Christmas shopping. Lots, and lots, of shopping.

  1. Sounds like you had a fabulous time in NYC, just like I did in September. An amazing place! :0)

  2. Sounds like fun, I thought you had retired from blogging!

  3. Loving the blog! What is it about NYC that makes you want to go straight back?!

  4. Hehe I am actually the first comment to this incredible read?!?

  5.’s done it again! Amazing read.

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