Updated 24-Aug-2015: As promised, more pictures have now been added to this post.
Sorry for the delay in getting this next blog post published. There was so much to see and do in New York and we were constantly on the go so by the time we got home to our apartment each night we were buggered - and the last thing I felt like doing was sitting down in front of the computer - so I have saved it all up and have put it together as one big blog post.
So buckle up, you’re in for a big read. Enjoy... We did.
We arrived into JFK airport on Sunday afternoon (9th August) and met our friend Carmen who had flown 20 odd hours from Melbourne to join us. We then waited around the arrivals hall for about the next hour waiting for our transfer shuttle to turn up - a little annoying to say the least. After two phone calls a big white Ford van eventually pulled up. We loaded our gear into the back and piled in with the other travellers. After swinging past another terminal for another pickup - and to make sure the van was packed to capacity - we finally left the airport.
The drive into Manhattan took about an hour. It's a long and unglamorous drive through the outer boroughs of New York. We eventually made it to the Queensborough Bridge and the skyscrapers of Manhattan were now clearly visible.
The traffic was no better on Manhattan. We wound our way through the many streets - up, across, down, back - dropping travellers of at various hotels scattered through out the midtown area.
We finally arrived at our apartment block in Midtown and checked in. We were in a pretty good location on 49th street between 6th and 7th Ave - right next to the Broadway theatre district, Times Square, and The Rockefeller centre.
Rather tired after a long day of travel, we decided to keep dinner quick and simple - Pizza from the place next door.
The Highline and Chelsea Market
Monday morning we all woke up fresh and ready to go. We decided to get out and about walking to see as much as we could on foot - which ended up being quite a big day of walking.
From our apartment on 49th street we walked down 7th Ave through Times Square and then on through the fashion district to about 35th street before heading across town to 9th Ave to find the start of the Highline.
The Highline is an old train line that is elevated up above street level and has been transformed into a green space and walking trail.
The Highline weaves its way down to the Chelsea Market at 14th street - those of you who are good at math may have already determined that's 35 block down and more than a few across town.
The walk down to Chelsea Market on the Highline was quite enjoyable and provides a very different perspective of the city from the elevated vantage point.
About halfway down the Highline we spotted a sign for a cafe - good time for a coffee break. We descend the stairs from the Highline back to street level and across the road found a trendy little cafe with amazing coffee and cakes - the guy working there even knew what a Babycino was so Archie was in luck.
The barista was a master at his trade... After travelling for so long without access to good coffee, what we encountered here was nothing but fantastic - the equal to any great cafe in Melbourne.
After our short stop, we headed back up to the Highline to continue our walk. It wasn't long before we got to the Chelsea market - but before venturing back down to street level to enter the market we looked around the street traders that were setup on the Highline. Here we found my need food love - ice cream sandwiches.
A small freezer cart was setup on the Highline from Melt Bakery - the first people to bring ice cream sandwiches into New York - and for only $4 they are truly something. Coming in at variety of flavours, we went with the Morticia, a crispy chocolate biscuit enclosing a chocolate and rum infused ice cream - absolutely delicious.
After our ice cream sandwich indulgence, we headed down to street level and into the market.
It was now right on lunch time, and the market was very busy with tourists and locals alike. We wandered through the busy market place, in and out of stores exploring the wares on offer. Beautiful fresh fruit and veggies, fresh meats and seafood - pretty much anything you could want - as well as a few trinket shops for souvenirs.
After wandering through the hustle and bustle of the market for a while we ended up at the street foods area and decided it was time for lunch - on the menu, Mexican tacos from Los Tacos No.1, and Korean kimchi ramen noodle soup from Mok-Bok , all delicious.
After spending time at the market we headed back to the Highline and made the walk (some 40 odd blocks) back home for an afternoon rest.
In the evening we headed out again, on foot, toward the Flatiron district to a place we had been told was good - the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The park was nicely lit-up in the early evening, and we found some seats before joining the queue to order our meals. The queue was long, but moved quickly.
Something I have noticed in New York is the efficiency with which they serve large numbers of people quickly. Be it a line for food, the theatre or other, what appears a long line often moves quick quickly.
We ordered burgers, fries and drinks and enjoyed them in the park - Archie love watching the squirrels running about in the nearby trees.
It had been a long day for Archie and was now 9pm and well past his bed time, so Laura and I hailed a cab to get him back to the apartment and to bed. Jo and Carmen wandered their way back on foot and arrived home a little later (after some shopping on 5th Ave).
All up we had walked about 16km today - no wonder the feet and legs were a little tired.
A Rainy Day
We woke Tuesday morning to a rainy day - an overnight thunderstorm had been forecast and it didn't disappoint. I had to make a mad early morning dash to the nearest supermarket for a resupply of milk, yoghurt, bananas and other breakfast essentials. Without a rain jacket I decided to brave it in one of my already worn stinky t-shirts and bathers - the t-shirt needed to be washed anyway and the bathers would dry quickly.
Unfortunately I was up and out a little too early - after a mad dash two blocks to the supermarket, I found it wasn't open for another hour. So I hit up a local deli across the street and found everything I needed to get us through breakfast.
I was completely drenched by the time go back to the apartment - but the breakfast resupply mission had been accomplished.
We used the time during the morning to plan out some of the things we wanted to get out and see.
So what to do on a rainy day? Shopping is a great indoor activity... Macy's it was then... You could spend a whole day in this place... If you were so inclined...
The rain eventually cleared and the sun had even come out a little by the afternoon - so we set out again in search for a place for dinner. We had heard of a nice steak place down on the East side near 2nd street, so we ventured out to find it.
After some wandering around we eventually found the place... However it was a little more up market than we were looking for - especially with a tired 18 month old in tow. Unfortunately we headed decided on a Plan B... So more wandering around.
We eventually found what looked to be a reasonable pub and headed in for a meal. It turned out to be one of the most expensive meals we had in New York - and by far the lowest in quality. We had obviously walked into the local tourist trap - but what can you do when you’re hungry and grizzly 18 month old needs some dinner.
Don't get me wrong - I have eaten at worse places, and the meals were ok, but very expensive for what you got on reflection.
After dinner we wandered back home to the apartment to get the little man to bed.
A Walk In The Park
Wednesday morning we decided to hit Central Park for the day. Central Park was about 10 blocks uptown from where we were staying - a fairly easy walk, but we decided to save our legs for the park and catch the subway instead.
The 7th Ave and 49th Street subway station was just on the corner of our street. We decided to buy weekly subway passes for $30 (plus $1 for the card) as these provided unlimited travel on the subway, and considering we were here for a few days would easily work out much cheaper than buying out tickets a ride-at-a-time.
We arrived at the south gate of Central Park and started our wandering. First stop was the Central Park Carousel - we couldn't go past the carousel with out giving Archie a ride.
After our brief stop, we continued walking up through the sheep meadow and across to the Imagine Park - a memorial park for John Lennon.
We then continued our walk along the side of the lake and found the Friends fountain - where a few obligatory tourist snaps were taken.
By about lunchtime we had found our way (conveniently) to the Central Park Boat House Restaurant and Cafe - so decided to have lunch here.
After lunch we continued our walk through the park - this place is absolutely enormous. By early afternoon we had only walked about one third of the length of the park - mind you we were not in a rush, and it was a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy New York streets.
On our way back home we walked past the Central Park Zoo and were just in time to watch the clock tower go off - Archie loved the music and the animal statues dancing around the bottom of the clock.
All up, we had a big and enjoyable day in the park - even if we didn't get to see all of it (we need to leave something for next time we visit!).
World Trade Centre Memorial, Wall Street and Katz's Dinner
We had a lot planned for Thursday. We caught the subway downtown and then started walking through some of the neighbourhoods on our way to the World Trade Centre memorial site.
On our way we happened to find (not by accident!) the Ghost Busters fire station - so some obligatory tourist photos here. We continued our walk downtown and were amazed by the number of skyscrapers in the area.
Arriving at the World Trade Centre memorial site was quite amazing - you come out from behind towering buildings into what is now a big peaceful open space. It's hard to believe there were two towering buildings standing on that site - and what is harder to believe is the destruction and chaos that would have been going on during the September 11 incident. It was quite an odd feeling walking into the area.
The memorial area has been done very nicely - tow large water fountains now reside in the place where the towers once stood. It is truly something to see.
From the World Trade Centre site we continued our walk down through Wall Street - a fairly unexciting area of town if I am completely honest. As a tourist in New York, its something you need to come and see - but now I have seen it, I doubt I will have a need to come back.
We continued our walk down to the ferry terminal. Here Carmen and Jo jumped on a ferry across to Stanton Island, which Laura and I decided to head up to the Lower East side to visit Katz's Deli - famous for a number of reasons, but most people associate it with the "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry met Sally.
We jumped on the subway and then walked a few blocks to find the diner. Wow... talk about organised chaos. Luckily we arrived just outside the lunchtime peak - which meant we didn't have to line up outside on the street to get in.
Walking in a big guy hands you a ticket and says simply... "Don't loose it. You need it to get out." Initially it was all a bit too much to take in - Laura, Archie and I stood there amongst the crowd of people just looking around and processing what to do next... oh yeah... lunch - lets order some lunch.
To order food you approach a very long counter - the counter is divided into separate areas - depending on what you want. Given the number of people inside, we decided just to order something from where we were - a cheese steak sandwich and a cheeseburger (we were at the grill). When you order, you give you ticket to the guy behind the counter. He then makes some marks on the ticket and adds up the order price and writes it on the ticket. This happens every time you order something - and the total on your ticket gets updated.
While eating we were able to take sometime to observe the 'process' of how to get out of the deli. Basically your ticket is your way out. You have to pay to be let out. Loose your ticket and you are up for a minimum $50 - and probably a lot of grief from the big guys on the door.
The queue to get out was quite long - but every now and then one of the guys working the line would come down and ask if anyone had paid by credit card - if you paid by card you can just walk out... The line of for cash payment was huge.
Looking around we discovered the credit card payment area at the end of the food service counter - near the soft drinks (where else). Importantly there was no line - so off I went. All paid and straight out the door. As we left we handed over our two tickets (Laura's and mine) and our credit card receipt.
"All good" the big guy on the door said... "But where's his ticket. He's gotta have a ticket" the guy said pointing to Archie. At this point I was confused. "Really?" I thought... "He can't be serious."
"But you only gave us two..." I started to say when the other big guy on the door started to laugh and said, "Did you see this guy... He was about to have a nervous breakdown..."
Oh they were joking... And at my expense... They are (way) bigger than me - so I guess we call that funny.
No harm done and I did see the funny side. I suspect it’s a common routine with the tourists.
After having more than our fill at Katz's we caught the subway home before heading back out for dinner in the evening.
Friday we set off to cross the bridge and see Williamsburg and Brooklyn. We encountered a bit of trouble on the subway with the 'easy-way' being shut down due to signal faults (apparently fairly common thing in the underground). So we replanned our route and headed off again.
We made it into Williamsburg and started walking around the neighbourhood - Williamsburg apparently has some trendy little streets and shops. The streets in and around the train station were pretty grim - not really much to write home about. To begin with we were starting to wonder if we had wasted our time - but slowly as we continued to walk deeper into the neighbourhood more and more hipsters started appearing, and then a trendy cafe or two, and then some shops... we had found what had been promised.
We grabbed a coffee in a trendy little cafe called Oslo before continuing on. Latte, Cold Brew Ice Coffee and a bite to eat - just what we needed.
At this point I had grown quite fond of Cold Brew Ice Coffee, and in the heat and humidity I could see the appeal over a hot coffee. You see a lot of New Yorkers drinking iced coffee rather than hot coffee.
Continuing into Williamsburg we found the main shopping strip which was full of trendy little cafes and shop - the girls were in and out of most shops all up and down the strip, while Archie and I people watched out on the curb - occasionally venturing into a shop now and then when something caught my intrigue.
We headed to Cafe De La Esquina for lunch - a Mexican styled diner. The food was great - spicy tacos, nachos, quesadilla, and the drinks were packed full of tequila.
After lunch Laura and Carmen wanted to continue exploring the shops in Williamsburg, and I needed to get Archie home for a sleep - so Jo, Archie and I headed back to the train station.
Rather than heading straight back home we decided this was a good opportunity to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - and take in the sights along the way.
The walk across the bridge was really enjoyable - but crowded. There are two lanes - one for pedestrians and one for bikes - make sure you stay in the correct lane as the bike riders get really cranky when the tourists wander across into their lane to grab a photo of the bridge or lower Manhattan.
The walk in itself took around 30 min - and it was quite warm in the early afternoon.
After our walk we made it back to the apartment and put Archie down for a snooze - and got a bit of relief from the heat in the air-conditioned room. The girls arrived home not much later and without too much damage done to the credit cards.
Laura and Carmen had discounted tickets to go and see Les Miserables on Broadway, and I managed to get myself a ticket to Penn & Teller on Broadway.
We put Archie down for the night and Jo was kind enough to baby site while we went out to our shows. Carmen, Laura and I set out for a drink before the show. A few nights before Carmen and Laura had found a cool little Cuban bar in the theatre district, which they wanted to take me to.
Victors Cafe was very cool and very Cuban. A dimly lit room, bar on one side table and chairs down the other and a small band playing Cuban music at the front - awesome. We ordered a round of drinks and enjoyed the music and atmosphere before parting ways to head off and see our shows.
Penn & Teller were fantastic - I would really recommend anyone go and see them if they have the chance. Absolutely astounding and engaging - it was a great show. I am still dazzled and amazed by their performance.
After the show Penn & Teller were getting photos and signing autographs for the fans out in the foyer of the theatre. The queue was massive - so while I would have liked to meet them, I decided against lining up.
I got a message from Laura who said they were just at intermission - apparently Les Miserables is a long show... So I decided to head up to the top of the Marriot hotel where the Penn & Teller show had been held to their View Bar. The View Bar on level 64 has a rotating floor, which gives you a 360 degree view of the city.
A whiskey sour and two beers later I had gone the full circle and decided to head back down and meet up with the girls. As I got to the ground floor I noticed that Penn & Teller were still there (an hour later). I also noticed there were only 3 people left in the queue... make that 4!
A few minutes later I was shaking hands with both Penn & Teller, getting my photo taken and having the ticket and playbook signed - my day was made!
I then met up with the girls and we headed home.
Saturday was Carmen's Birthday - we had spent some of our rare spare time in the days prior researching and planning what to do.
Carmen had a few recommended places that we thought we would checkout. First brucnh on the lower east side near Soho.
We took the subway down to the lower east side and wandered through the funky back streets - cool shops and cafes everywhere.
We arrived at our brunch destination - Public. Public is a trendy little restaurant cafe that was awarded a Michelin Star in 2015, and offers awesome meals and drinks - including a Gin and Juice bar where you can mix your straight Gin with any number of the freshly prepared fruit juices and condiments (fresh friut wedges, select herbs, etc).
We ordered a selection of meals from the brunch menu and enjoyed. I also topped out my brunch with a Bloody Mary (or two).
After brunch we continued our walk through the local streets. I found an old fashioned barber and decided to get myself a beard trim - its been growing wild for the past month or so and was starting to look a bit straggly. First a shaping trim with electric clippers followed by a close shave with an old fashioned cut-throat razor. 20 min later we were all cleaned up and ready to go - presentable once again (some might think at least).
The girls continued to wander through the streets in and our of all the shops - looking, admiring and occasionally purchasing.
I happened across a hat shop and thought that Archie and I looked pretty smart in flat caps - so we laid down our cash and bought them.
Given we were in the general area of Melt Bakery we decided it was a good time to get another of their fantastic ice cream sandwiches. $4 later we were eating another of these delicious delights.
Given that Carmen and Jo hadn't been with Laura and i when we visited Katz's Deli and that it was just around the corner - we decided to swing past there also on our way home. This time the deli was packed and there was a line down the sidewalk to get in - so we just peeked in through the window to get a view.
Laura and Carmen wanted to head back to the Chelsea Market for more shopping - so Jo and I headed back to the apartment to get Archie to bed. On our way back we existed the subway on 6th Ave about 2 blocks from home - what was gong on... the whole avenue was shut down and there were market stalls (for about 20 blocks) up and down the avenue. So we wandered for a while to checkout the stalls and street food.
Later that evening we set back out to the lower east side to a restaurant we had made reservations in for Carmen's birthday dinner - Beauty & Essex.
Beauty & Essex is a beautiful and funky restaurant that is tucked in behind a pawn shop. You walk into the pawn shop off the street and through a big heavy door into an urban hideout that is dimly lit and nicely styled.
Dinner was awesome - they suggest a tapas / share plates so we went with a selection of different options - all absolutely delicious.
After dinner we headed back home to the apartment and then wandered over to the Rockefeller centre to book tickets to the Top of the Rock - the observation deck at the top of the building. Our session was at 9:50pm, so we went home and chilled out a bit before heading back.
The express elevator had us up to the 65th floor in no time at all. Outside the girls were ok - but I was packing it. The view of the city at night was awesome... as long as I wasn't too close to the glass wall edge. Talk about vertigo... wow.
We went up further to the top observation deck - which I actually found a bit easier as you could see the next level down.
Looking over the city on a hot balmy night was a great experience from the Top of the Rock.
Earlier I the week we had booked ourselves tickets to see the Harlem Gospel Choir at BB Kings Blues Bar just off Broadway. It was a brunch show starting around 12.
Before heading out to the gospel show, we wandered down to Times Square to see if we could get Jo some tickets to a show - she was the only one of us yet to get to a Broadway show. She managed to get herself some discounted tickets to a mateney show of An American in Paris - which was on her 'too see' list.
We headed down to the BB King Blues Bar for lunch (brunch) and to see the gospel choir. We had decent seats in a booth to the left of the stage, and the music was great. Archie loved it - up and dancing to the classic gospel songs being belted out (quite well) by the choir.
We left the choir show as soon as it finished and walked up to Times Square to get Jo to here matinée show.
We finished up the day with a stroll back through Central Park and up and down 5th Ave with some shopping.
Tomorrow (Monday) we are off to Los Angeles and Disneyland.